Rutland takes a bow

Posted by admin on May 18, 2011

Rutland Herald Editorial, Published: May 16, 2011

The state’s progressive business leaders held their annual meeting in Burlington last week, and Rutland was one of the stars.

Vermont Business for Social Responsibility is a growing force in the state’s business community, building our “green” credentials while at the same time profiting off that image to market their ideas and products.

One of their morning sessions was hosted by Vermont Rural Development’s Paul Costello and featured Rutland’s Creative Economy leaders along with snippets of Art Jones’ documentary, “The Blood in This Town,” as a how-to model of getting things done with a grass-roots effort. The presentation was warmly received by a standing-room-only audience of about 75 people: Entrepreneurs and others looking to build the state’s economy alongside the strength of its communities.

We cannot expect major manufacturers to reverse decades-long trends and suddenly decide to go on a factory-building spree in Rutland, in Vermont or indeed the Northeast. Global macroeconomic forces favoring overseas sweatshops are too strong.

Growth in this region comes from clusters of opportunity or specialized niches. Bennington, for instance, is working hard to develop a composites industry based on a couple of relatively small manufacturers. They in turn attract and train a workforce knowledgeable about the industry and there is opportunity for more and perhaps larger investment in the future.

But even that success is built on a chain of coincidences, beginning with the war in Iraq showing a need for better-armored Humvees, thus creating demand for some of the products coming out of Bennington. You can’t build regional development plans on the basis that you might get that lucky because while you’re waiting for lightning to strike, whole communities can fail.

There are no easy solutions, but the state several years ago began a process of encouraging communities to build their own futures instead of waiting for outside help, through the Council on Rural Development’s Creative Economy program. Of the many places Costello has taken that message, it has been most successful in Rutland.

Thursday’s program was a reminder of that success. It has also become part of the message going forward, as more and more often Rutland’s work is being held up statewide as an example of how to get things done.

When, toward the end of the presentation, Costello pointed at the Creative Economy volunteers in attendance and said “These are Rutland’s heroes,” the audience nodded along in agreement. They are regular people making an enormous impact for the better.

It’s also making a difference right here at home, in a way that might not be as visible as Friday Night Live or even the makeover of Pine Hill from scrubland into a city park. Steve Costello of CVPS — coincidentally, Paul’s brother — reports that on Friday they screened “The Blood in This Town” to the junior class at Rutland High School to an equally positive reaction. If we can get the youth of the city excited and involved in our community, proud to be from Rutland, so that they want to stay here and build something, we have a bright future.

Social Responsibility Good for Business

Posted by admin on May 16, 2011

By Dan D’Ambrosio, Burlington Free Press Staff Writer, Friday May 13, 2011

Gov. Peter Shumlin credited the Vermont business community’s focus on social responsibility as a spur toward the dollars-and-cents success the state is experiencing.

The emphasis is creating a climate that is making Vermont a “bastion of economic opportunities,” the governor said at Thursday’s annual spring conference of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility in Burlington.

“The other 49 states will wish they were us if we get it right,” Shumlin said. “I pledge to work with you 24/7 to get it right.”

Vermont’s unemployment rate has been around 5.5 percent in recent months, and Chittenden County’s rate has been around 4.7 percent — both figures are far below the national unemployment rate of close to 9 percent.

The state is home to growing companies including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Waterbury, whose net income and stock price have soared in recent years. In many cases, these companies put an emphasis on issues such as fair trade, the environment and sustainability.

The conference included a series of 13 workshops on subjects ranging from a review of the 2011 legislative session to advice on using social media.

Reviving Rutland

One of the first workshops Thursday was called “Rutland: The Drive for Economic Revival.” The workshop drew about 50 people for a discussion of a recent documentary, “The Blood in this Town,” by Art Jones of Great Jones Productions in New York City, which used Rutland’s record-breaking Gift-of-Life Marathon blood drive to “explore how a struggling, post-industrial town can revive itself from the grassroots up.”

A panel of Rutland residents who have been instrumental in that revival were on hand for a discussion of the documentary and their community. One of those residents, Michael Smith, took it on himself to transform a neglected city park, Pine Hill Park, into a popular mountain bike park, with the help of local high school students and others.

Smith said it’s important for towns like Rutland to take their futures into their own hands, no matter how small they might seem.

“Everybody is waiting for some big company to move in and save the day,” Smith said. “You can’t wait for that.”

Andrea Cohen, executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said the annual conference is a chance for some of the organization’s 1,200 members across the state to come together and share ideas for how to continue building the state’s economy.

“Our membership thinks Vermont is a great place to do business,” Cohen said. “Whether you’re selling socks, cheese, or web services, the Vermont brand is associated with quality.”

2010 Wrap-Up

Posted by admin on December 16, 2010

Film Review: Blood drive film is tough but optimistic

By Jim Lowe, Rutland Herald Staff Writer, Tuesday October 26, 2010

“The Blood in This Town” is no fluff piece. It shows Rutland as a has-been industrial town, “warts and all,” and does not mince words.

But, anyone watching New York filmmaker Art Jones’ documentary, which had its first screenings at the Paramount over the weekend, will leave the theater with immense respect for the community — and hope.

The real story is of the fortitude and ingenuity of the townspeople who are in the process of turning the seemingly impossible situation around. And, better yet, people are able to laugh at themselves — and, in this film, we are able to laugh with them. It’s quite entertaining as well as guardedly optimistic.

Jones came to town last December to chronicle Rutland’s annual “The Gift of Life Blood Drive” at the invitation of Steve Costello, Central Vermont Public Service director of public affairs and an organizer of the drive. They had a goal to establish a New England record for the most blood received in one day— 1,000 pints.

Jones and his film crew were there for the countdown — to see if this little city, of 16,000 had the gumption to beat Boston and be first.

In the process, Jones discovered Rutland. Talking with the hundreds of people who came to give blood, he realized there was a bigger story to tell. Any town that was digging in to do something as important as collecting a record amount of blood to save others’ lives wasn’t sitting around waiting for providence to solve its problems.

Jones’ film took 80 minutes to portray Vermont’s second-largest city and its efforts to come out of the economic disaster bigger and better. Rutlanders may well be aware of these efforts — though I suspect many are not — but fellow Vermonters will certainly be surprised by the scope of involvement and creativity on tap.

After settling into the drama of blood drive, the film explores the “ugly” side of Rutland. There are plenty of dilapidated homes and abandoned factories. People, in interviews, explain their difficulty surviving day-to-day with Vermont’s highest unemployment rate. It’s pretty uncomfortable.

Then, locals explain why they remain in Rutland despite its problems. Some cite the intimacy of a small town, while others call it home. Native David Giancola had the most unusual praise for the city. Wherever else they would let his Edgewood Studios film its thriller-disaster films in the middle of town? (Some of Giancola’s very colorful footage spices up this documentary.)

But, then, Jones begins to explore what Rutland is doing about itself. The blood drive gives an idea of the local support on tap. Everyone from city officials to policemen and firemen to laborers and unemployed to the high school hockey team are there to help. But that’s only for one day.

From there, it’s on to the Rutland Creative Economy. Farmers talk about how the city has taken a seasonal farmers’ market and made it year-round in an abandoned movie theater. A group of dirt bike enthusiasts are taking a nearly forgotten Pinewood Park into what is becoming an internationally famous mountain bike track. In the same park, volunteers have created a setting for summer arts events.

These stories aren’t dry and statistical. Rather, they’re told by the individuals, stressed and pushed, who are making these changes. It’s personal and powerful.

Jones’ film, produced by his Great Jones Productions, is fast-paced, well-filmed and largely riveting. Rutlanders have a sense of humor about themselves — and Jones shares this with his audience.

Even those who know the outcome of the blood drive will be on tenterhooks waiting to see if all the hard work and hype will work for this can-do town.