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NEWPORT CITY â€“ Trish Sears, CEO of the Newport City Renaissance Corporation (NCRC), is full of energy and always looking for ways to make her beloved city even better. Thatâ€™s why the staff at the Newport Daily Express named her Citizen of the Year.
â€śIâ€™m really humbled,â€ť said Sears, upon hearing of her award.
Sears was born in Atlanta, Ga., but her family moved to Long Island. She attended St. Francis College. After college she lived in Manhattan and worked in the garment industry. Later, she sold fine art on the East Coast. Then she moved to Wyoming where she worked for the Special Olympics. That's where she met and married her husband, Steve Mason, who was working for Special Olympics in Washington, D.C.
Sears eventually relocated to the nationâ€™s capital and started working in international development.
Searsâ€™s husband, who is originally from the Northeast Kingdom, has a strong attachment to Newport. Masonâ€™s father, Mayland Mason, owned Mason Auto Body on the East Side. Steve Masonâ€™s grandfather, Leo Camirand, owned the former Camirand Auto, which was located in Railroad Square for over 50 years.
When she first moved to the region in 2001, Sears worked as a consultant on international development. Her duties included womenâ€™s issues and sustainable development in places like Africa and Asia. After moving to Lowell, her colleagues joked that they had to break up their emailed attachments because her Internet connection wouldnâ€™t handle the entire file. Sears and Mason started writing grants that helped bring high speed wireless Internet to Lowell and surrounding areas.
As a consultant, Sears worked with Save the Children and traveled to places like Banda Aceh, Indonesia. She worked there for three months in 2005. Sears is also consulted for Vermont Public Television and Grounds for Health, a Waterbury-based organization that works on womenâ€™s issues.
The Lowell Historical Society is one of the organizations Sears joined after moving to Vermont. The organization obtained money from the town, installed a â€śWelcome to Lowell Signâ€ť and produced a cookbook from residents who live or used to live in Lowell. Sears also did substitute teaching at the Lowell Graded School, where the principal asked her to start the organization â€śFriends of Lowell Kids.â€ť The organization did such things as write grants to help purchase playground equipment. Sears also joined the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative and served as president for three years.
Sears became involved with NCRC after Newport City received a community development block grant. The council hired Sears in 2006 so the city could secure the Vermont Downtown Designation. NCRC had a year and a half to complete the task, which was accomplished in about a year. A downtown designation allows for grants and tax credits for different projects.
Sears, upon being hired, contacted Newport native and Burlington developer Tony Pomerleau. During that conversation, they discussed the Waterfront Plaza, which is one of Pomerleauâ€™s properties. The next morning Pomerleau called Sears to say something needed to be done with the property. It wasnâ€™t long until Pomerleau started talking about tearing down the shopping center and building a new hotel, conference center and retail space.
NCRC was the first in the state to get a grant from the American Institute of Architects, which brought in the Rural/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT). That visit resulted in numerous suggestions for the city. Way-finding signs andÂ Form Based Zoning were the first tasksÂ completed. Newport is the only municipality in the state to adopt Form Based Zoning, and now other places like Shelburne and South Burlington are working on it.
Because of Searsâ€™ work inÂ partnershipÂ with citizen experts, NCRC has been recognized nationally and internationally.
More recently, NCRC has been working in partnershipÂ with NVDAÂ on a foreign trade zone in Newport. Sears expects the zone will become a reality in the next several months. Meanwhile, NCRC continues work to develop downtown Newport City into a center for entrepreneurship. Over the next several years, NCRC will continue to work as a catalyst forging partnerships for Newport'sÂ economic growth Â and community engagement. NCRC recently received a grant from the Orton Family Foundation for a Community Matters project. A representative of the foundation plans to visit the city in February Â 2013.