Applications are now being accepted for the first round of funds provided by Entergy Vermont Yankee for economic development in Windham County. In a settlement with the state, Entergy agreed to pay $10 million over five years to help the region recover from the plant’s closing later this year.
The first $2 million installment of the economic development money from Entergy has been in the state’s coffers since spring. Since then state officials have worked with Windham County leaders and groups to develop a procedure for awarding the funds. Now the Windham County Economic Development Program is up and running and accepting applications through September 23.
Pat Moulton is the Commissioner of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, which will administer the program. She says the goal is not to fund what she calls 'one-hit wonders,' but to fund projects that will create sustainable, structural change in the region.
"For example, workforce development systems," Moulton says, "Or economic development infrastructure, like a business incubator or a business accelerator, or new infrastructure for industrial land or buildings -- systems that are going to be able to provide that long-term economic impact because we now have systems in place that were not in place before."
The funds will be divided into a grant program for municipalities, non-profit groups and government agencies. Funding for businesses will be in the form of loans. The money that’s paid back will go to a revolving loan fund that officials say will continue long after the five-year funding agreement ends.
Moulton says priority will go to projects that create higher-wage jobs. Salaries in Windham County are well below the state average, even before the loss of Vermont Yankee. Proposals will also be rated on their compatibility with the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. The multi-town planning document was developed under the leadership of Southeastern Vermont Economic Strategies, or SeVEDs. The group is an affiliate of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation.
Stephan Morse, the BDCC’s interim director, says he’s satisfied with Windham County’s role in the decision making process.
"One important step in the process," Morse says, "Is that the Windham Regional Planning Commission and the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation will be asked to give opinions on all the applications, both loans and grants."
Moulton says it makes sense for state agencies to administer the funds because they already have the necessary systems in place.
"If that were to happen on the regional level," Moulton says, "there would have to be probably significant amounts of funding spent on administrative capacity."
Governor Peter Shumlin, whose administration forged the funding agreement with Entergy, will make the final decisions on the applications.