JAY, VT - Two dozen representatives from the Agency of Commerce, Northeastern Vermont Development Association, Lyndon State College, Community College of Vermont, Department of Labor, and the North Country Supervisory Union, including Superintendent Dr. Robert Kern, high school principal Bill Rivard, and interim North Country Career Center Director Eileen Illuzzi, and other supporting agency members, met at Jay Peak Ski Resort to discuss economic development plans.
Between the ongoing expansion of the ski resort, the construction of the Renaissance building on Main Street in Newport as well as the conference center/hotel/marina, and the additional jobs created by AnC Bio Vermont and Menck Windows, close to 2000 direct jobs, mostly full-time, will be created primarily in Orleans County, with some going to Caledonia County. An additional 2500 construction jobs will be necessary over the next three to five years to complete these projects.
Currently, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak Ski Resort, said there are 350 construction jobs at the resort alone. And, he added with a point of pride, all of the workers are from the area.
Stenger started the meeting by providing an overview of the development projects and he noted that, “A high tide floats all boats, and with the development of the Renaissance block and the waterfront with the hotel and conference center, we can be vibrant like Magog.” Stenger said he has been asked, “Why we (Newport) can't be as busy as Magog, and the answer is they have a vibrant and expansive bed base on the waterfront that we don't have.”
These two projects are expected to add the bed base that will bring people into the city.
One of the goals of the summit was to get an idea of the number and types of jobs that will be created, an issue of concern to Dr. Kern. “We need your help to get projections of the number of students who will enter our school system, what towns they may locate in, what income level for these jobs, and what educational needs we must provide,” he stated. “Our facilities are 40 years old, they need upgrading, in addition to adding more programs to accommodate economic growth. We don’t have the capacity to get the information we need to do strategic planning.”
Dr. Kern said the school system will need language, math and science teachers, which are problem areas for him. Dr. Kern also expressed interest in income levels because “55% of our students are on free or reduced lunch programs.” Income level will make a difference in the amount of state aid available for the school system.
Stenger presented a preliminary project time line of when construction is to begin on each project and its ending date. Stenger emphasized the time line is an estimate and, even though he is an optimist and permitting for each development can go well, “You never know.”
It is Stenger's goal to have the AnC Bio Vermont facility at the Bogner plant completed in the spring of 2014; the Menck Windows facility should be ready by the summer of 2014. The new Stateside Hotel at Jay is scheduled to open December 2013; the same with the medical facility. The Burke Ski Area construction project of four hotels in two phases will have two completed by November 2014 and the other two a year later.
The Renaissance building is scheduled for completion by March 2015, and while it's on a different construction schedule, the Marina Hotel is expected to be operational the same year, but in the fall.
The airport will undergo a major facelift and a new warehouse and terminal should be completed by June 2014. The expanded runway will take longer.
Major areas of employment will include hospitality, manufacturing, bio-science, construction and building trades. Agency of Commerce Deputy Secretary Pat Moulton Powden asked if finding enough construction workers will be a problem moving forward, and Stenger affirmed this is already an issue.
“We have 350 people working at the resort right now. We do have a problem finding workers. We need help from the schools, the career center. We need help giving students a focus, to know what's out there and making them motivated,” he said. “We are emphasizing full-time, year-round jobs. Right now at the resort we are seeing incredibly busy periods in the summer.”
Eileen Illuzzi stated the career center is “expanding the hospitality program and getting students to focus on a career track.” She said 45% of high school students go on to post secondary education, but the retention rate is an issue, “We do have programs that allow students to get college credit, which will help them when they graduate.”
Many of the new work opportunities will be in the field of hospitality, which includes a variety of skilled and unskilled positions, from housekeeping, to marketing and accounting, highly skilled chefs, to engineers. Stenger noted he has four highly trained engineers at the resort for the variety of issues that need attending, including the water park and skating arena.
Stenger provided a rough estimate that in excess of 900 jobs will be available in the hospitality field. A medical facility at the resort will create twelve or more jobs including administration, registered nurses and doctors.
“In our business we have a need for orthopedic surgeons,” he said.
The facility will be available for the estimated 1500 employees who will be hired when construction is complete. Visitors to the ski area and residents of the surrounding communities will also have access to the facility. Having the facility available to Troy, Jay and Montgomery citizens will make it easier for them to get the care they need, Stenger said.
Menck Windows will hire 140 employees with 125 in manufacturing, five in management and the rest in administration. The manufacturing includes construction and painting windows, but will involve high tech equipment for precision engineering.
AnC Bio Vermont has two components: the manufacturing, assembly, and distribution of medical products; and “clean rooms” for a biologically pure, FDA approved site for bio tech research. An estimated 250 employees will be hired for the first activity, with about a third of all employees working in manufacturing, with an associates degree required for employment. About a third of the balance will be in research with an associates or bachelors degree in science required. The balance of the employees excluding management will have masters degrees.
Clean room employees will have 200 employees who must have a bachelor of science or a masters degree, and 50 employees who are in administration.
Finally, operations at the airport will include jobs for warehouse and terminal construction commencing next summer, and 36 jobs starting the summer of 2014 in manufacturing. Stenger is in the process of developing a bond warehouse operation at the airport, as well as working with Cessna Aviation for a training and outreach program at the facility. These operations will bring additional warehouse and aviation engineering jobs to the area.
With an enormous amount of information imparted in two hours, Moulton Powden noted there was a lot of work to be done, but “We have a program to encourage people to move back home.... They went away because we didn't have these employment opportunities. Now it's possible to reach out to area graduates and tell them to come back. We also can target people who came here to school and wanted to stay.” She added, “We need to develop pathways and market to our students, not just in high school, that we have opportunities here. We have a lot of players – high schools, career centers, colleges – that need to participate in getting the message out.”
As a result of the presentation, four working committees will be created focusing on the construction trade, bio tech/science, manufacturing and technology, and hospitality. Each area will be reviewed to develop targeted curriculum, time lines for education and training programs, and resources necessary to accomplish the economic development goals. Moulton Powden will establish a steering committee to oversee the working groups.
With a time table of three to five years to complete these different projects, members of the planning meeting are already feeling the pressure. The steering committee will ensure the planning process will stay within the time frame being developed by Stenger and his partners.