JAY – The second of a series of economic development meetings was held at the Jay Peak Resort Wednesday, bringing together a coalition of state officials, educators and other interested parties. The meeting was chaired by Pat Moulton Powden, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Commerce, who focused on getting all parties to work together.
“It takes a team to do this and do it well,” Moulton Powden stated in her opening remarks. “We're going to set a template here in the Northeast Kingdom.... If we can do it here, we can do this anywhere in the country.”
With the ongoing development at the Jay Peak Resort and the future expanded development of Burke Ski Area, as well as the introduction of several new businesses in Newport, Moulton Powden recognizes a need to develop a job-ready workforce, both short term as well as long term.
There is an immediate need for skilled construction workers in the area as the resort is already hiring 800 construction workers to complete a new State Side Resort, a ski school building, a medical facility and, in 2014, a new lodge and hotel on the west side of the mountain.
“There's going to be duplication between agencies and other organizations,” Moulton Powden warned. “This no time for turf wars; there's a place and role for everyone. We are facing an immediate and long term demand for certain job skills. Not only is there an immediate need for some skills, but we need to establish pipelines to continue bringing people into the workforce.”
Jay Peak Resort President Bill Stenger offered an update of the various projects and their construction timetables. The State Side project – which includes a new lodge, ski school, 84-suite hotel and 84 cottages – will be completed by the start of the next ski season. The West Bowl project is at the Act 250 planning process and Stenger anticipates construction will start in the spring of 2014.
North Country Hospital and St. Albans Hospital are working together to determine the scope of the medical services a new medical facility will provide. “We will have 3000 property guests and 1500 employees on site in a couple of years,” stated Stenger. “There is a need for medical services at the Resort, and as an additional benefit the facility will serve local communities.”
Development of ANC Bio is moving forward with an anticipated opening of a research facility in 2014. Stenger spent several weeks in November meeting with potential investors in South Korea.
“It's a good market as the scientific knowledge and business leadership for ANC Bio is coming from Korea,” said Stenger. “While there, we (with ANC Bio management) agreed that the technicians and scientists will be full time employees. We decided that the 450 jobs, including those who work in the clean rooms, will be permanent jobs. New England and Eastern Canada are a region which are leaders in the field of bio tech science, and there's a desperate need for clean rooms to conduct experiments.”
A change in ownership of the Spates Block on Main Street in Newport is anticipated to take place within a few weeks. Stenger anticipates demolition of the buildings will take place next fall. At the same time, he is seeking a location for a grocery store, drug store and other retail space before they start construction of the Newport Marina and Hotel.
South Korean imports may make use of the proposed bonded warehouses that will be built at the airport in Coventry.
“This is an important component to the development of the airport; we want to increase traffic to the airport and have intensified communication with aviators,” said Stenger. “We want them to know that we will have services for you at the Coventry airport.”
The biggest news involving the Burke Mountain Ski Resort is the potential construction of a indoor mountain biking facility.
“We can't survive with a 20% occupancy rate between April and November,” stated Stenger. “We need to offer mountain biking services, tennis, and other youth activities. As far as I know, there is no indoor mountain bike facility in North America.”
The parties focused on how to secure the much needed workforce.
In the Northeast Kingdom, there are 10,000 students in grades K-12 with potentially 750 graduating from high school every year.
“We need to make sure the opportunities are here for our graduates, the unemployed and underemployed,” said Moulton Powden. “There aren't enough people to fill construction needs here at the resort. Bill (Stenger) has to draw them from Franklin County, Lamoille County, and further away. We need to get together and get the word out to let people know what training programs are available to get them employed. And we have to do this before the flood gates open and we have immigration into the county.”
One area of focus is to get women into non traditional jobs such as the construction field. Moulton Powden stated, “It's about making sure the folks here get the opportunities. There needs to be a greater balance in gender in some industries. This is such a unique opportunity for this region. We need to seize the moment – a development of this magnitude will be like a tide that raises all ships.”
The committee will continue to meet to coordinate efforts to meet specific employment opportunities. As a first step, they are working with employers and the University of Vermont to articulate specific job skills and the training necessary to meet job requirements. Once this step is complete, area educators can design programs for students that will enable them to find employment after graduation.
“Preparing for work is not a theory,” emphasized Stenger. “It a reality. There will be skilled jobs for many years to come.”