Editor’s note: This commentary is by Don Keelan, a certified public accountant and resident of Arlington. The piece first appeared in the Bennington Banner.
One of the benefits of living in Arlington is that it is, geographically, an equal distance between Bennington to the south and Manchester to the north – hence the terms Southshire and Northshire. Each shire has an abundance of attractions and physical assets for locals, as well as for visitors.
Bennington is home to five colleges, a major regional hospital and health center, prestigious monuments, museums and art centers, longtime manufacturing facilities, and a host of state agencies. Also, it is home to one of Vermont’s largest school districts.
Manchester is nationally known for its recreational facilities, historic homes and businesses, first class shopping stores, plethora of professional offices housing architects, attorneys, medical and dental personnel, CPAs, and not unlike Bennington, has a host of art and cultural centers. While Manchester does not have as large a school district, it is home to one of Vermont’s most prestigious secondary schools, Burr and Burton Academy.
Together, the shires have the luxury of being in close proximity to New York and Massachusetts. Also, each locale has an abundance of nonprofit entities and volunteers.
For all too long, Bennington wanted nothing to do with promoting Manchester’s resources and likewise, Manchester felt that the Southshire’s physical assets and attractions were of no real interest.
There are many communities in Vermont that would love to have a fraction of what is available in the shires. Unfortunately, there are many who reside in this southwestern part of Vermont who do not realize how fortunate they are. The lack of appreciation has risen to the surface, ever since the Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce closed its doors last spring. The long-serving business organization filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In doing so, it created a vacuum in how the area should promote its resources. A year later with countless meetings held, there is little resolution – why?
A partial answer is the less than positive relationship that has existed between the two shires. For all too long, Bennington wanted nothing to do with promoting Manchester’s resources and likewise, Manchester felt that the Southshire’s physical assets and attractions were of no real interest. In effect, there has been an imaginary line drawn between the two shires – somewhere in Arlington. But positive change is on the horizon and its arrival can’t come soon enough.
The Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Shires of Vermont Regional Marketing Organization are now reaching out to include Northshire’s businesses in their marketing and promotion programs. Earlier this year, the Chamber delayed publishing its 68-page tourist guide in order to incorporate the attractions of Manchester. The publication has now grown to over 120 pages. The leadership of these organizations have also reached out to a newly formed Northshire nonprofit, Manchester Business Association – gently suggesting that the MBA not attempt to create its own promotion campaign, solely for Manchester businesses, and thereby, excluding surrounding communities, including Bennington.
What appears to be missing from all of the discourse is the fact that both the Northshire and the Southshire are dependent on each other. If one shire fails in its deliverables, it will have enormous repercussions on the other. Take for example the loss of the hospital – something that took place three years ago, just south of Bennington, in North Adams – a closing would have a devastating impact on the county. Likewise, the loss, say, of Burr & Burton, would have a negative impact as well. Let’s hope neither will ever occur.
One way to insure that this will never happen would be for all concerned to commit to the premise that we need each other. This will not come easy. It has been too long a period of working at cross-purposes. However, that can and must change if people of reason and good faith are willing to come together and embrace the larger mission, committing to the promotion of both shires, as one entity for the benefit of all.