ST. JOHNSBURY — As Gov. Phil Scott stood outside the Fairbanks Museum on Tuesday afternoon to celebrate Vermont’s new multimillion-dollar economic recovery program, construction on the museum’s upcoming three-story addition — funded in large part by state investments — didn’t let up.
Beginning this week, for-profit, nonprofit and municipal entities can apply for a bite out of the state’s $40 million fund known as the Community Recovery and Revitalization Program. On a first-come, first-served basis, the state will help fund projects “that make capital improvements or capital expansions that spur economic recovery and revitalization in communities across the state,” according to the Scott administration.
“The economic development initiatives we're talking about today, we believe will make a big difference,” Scott said Tuesday. “Because in order to have a strong, healthy community in every part of the state, we need good jobs, housing and thriving downtowns.
“But they also need access to basic needs, services and health care,” he continued. “And to improve quality of life, they need outdoor recreation, arts and entertainment — all things that help keep and attract the working families we desperately need.”
The program is funded thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act, which delivered a historic sum of money to Vermont to help the state recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers vowed to use the once-in-a-lifetime infusion to solve Vermont’s most pressing issues and make generational change. Scott said economic revitalization is one of those top priorities.
Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development, said Tuesday that the program is “meant for businesses that are still suffering from the pandemic” — namely those in the hospitality, arts, entertainment, agriculture and education industries.
“When you think about it, they were closed for such a long period of time, and then had restrictions on the amount of people that could attend. And then, people's behavior changed, and they're not going out as often, right? And then they couldn't find the workforce,” Goldstein said. “So I think there's still a continuing tale of pain.”
In the face of statewide child care and housing crises, the administration will also consider funding projects that support child care and housing for low- to moderate-income households. The money can also be used to upgrade municipal water and wastewater systems in order to accommodate new housing or businesses.
Each individual project granted funding will receive either $1 million or 20% of the project cost, whichever number is lesser, according to Goldstein. That means the $40 million pot will fund at least 40 projects, but Goldstein said she hopes to fund more.
“Not everyone is going to be asking for the maximum amount, and we're going to do our best to make sure that we distribute as much as we can around the state,” she said.
Applications are now open and will be considered on a rolling basis. For the first 30 days, the agency will prioritize applications for projects that would primarily serve communities of color. The agency will also prioritize projects located in the state’s more rural areas outside of Chittenden County.
The program is a reformed and expanded version of the state’s previous $10 million Capital Investment Program, though the final product passed by the Legislature this year was scaled back from Scott’s initial $80 million proposal.
The 2023 legislative session begins in only a matter of weeks, and Scott’s office has begun crafting its initial budget proposal for the Legislature. Asked on Tuesday if he plans to propose another round of Community Recovery and Revitalization Program funding, he said, “It’s going to take a while to get through this, so it'll take us through the next year or so, I would say, by the time these projects are completed.”
But once they are, he said he’ll be looking for funding sources “to invest in the rural parts of the state, the ones that are most disadvantaged.”
“We'll look for opportunities, but … we're not going to have the windfall we've had in the past,” Scott said. “And so we'll be back to somewhat normal and we’ll look for any opportunity we can to increase the amount of money that we can leverage.”
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