NEWPORT — More than two-dozen leaders and experts from across Caledonia, Essex and Orleans counties are sharing their recommendations for progress in the region, after six months of discussion and deliberation.
Two task forces convened by the nonprofit Northeast Kingdom Collaborative have each released a plan detailing projects that they believe can be started in 2019 and will have a measurable impact in areas crucial to the future of the Northeast Kingdom.
These areas include developing a generation of local leaders and supporting economic growth at the intersection of the creative, recreational and food sectors.
“We brought together a diverse set of people who really know these topics to dig in and develop their best ideas,” said Katherine Sims, Director of the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative. “We’re very excited about the creativity and specificity of the vision that came out of both of the groups.”
The release of these two plans represents a new phase for the revamped Northeast Kingdom Collaborative.
The organization has been working to increase coordination and communication among NEK businesses and nonprofits for more than 20 years.
During that time, it has assisted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Rural Economic Advancement Program (REAP) in identifying priorities for investment in the region.
In 2018, it launched a new strategy involving a reformatted governing board, a new paid director, as well as closer ties with private funders and the task force process.
“With these recommendations in hand, the next stage for the new year will be working with Task Force members and other organizations to bring that vision to life,” Sims said. “These plans are a blueprint for our work together over the next year and beyond.”
The Leadership Development Task Force put its weight behind six initiatives in its plan, “Grow Your Own,” after seeking public input through three Leadership Summits last summer.
One is to empower emerging local leaders by launching an intensive NEK leadership institute and a more informal women’s leadership learning circle.
Another is to offer more affordable and accessible professional development opportunities through a new series of classes, as well as a new NEK Training Scholarship Fund.
Other initiatives are to connect current and emerging leaders via a new mentor network and integrate new community members through a new outreach program.
Among the organizations taking the lead in pursuing these projects are Northwoods Stewardship Center, NEK Young Professionals Network, Northern Vermont University, and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association.
This tri-sector task force focused on how to advance economic development at the intersection of the region’s three most dynamic sectors, which includes the creative, recreation, and food sectors.
In a report, the collaborative prioritizes five initiatives.
One is to coordinate and expand marketing the region by establishing an NEK Regional Marketing Partnership Advisory Group with several specific priorities.
Another is to sustain and grow place-based events by formalizing an “NEK Event Backbone” program run by a regional event assistance provider.
Other initiatives put forward are to enhance economic growth through rural community hubs with new investments in infrastructure that would connect outdoor recreation assets to the creative and food sectors, as well as to expand access to tri-sector experiences for kids, by starting an NEK Kids Program Fund.
Organizations leading these projects include Catamount Arts, Northern Forest Center and the Northern Community Investment Corporation.
Both task forces focused in on the importance of increasing connectivity in the region by expanding access to business-class high-speed broadband in community hubs and true high-speed broadband to residences.
Both recommended working with stakeholders to develop another detailed action plan for specific work in this area.
Greater details on the proposed programs, the Task Force process and the NEK Collaborative are available in the reports.
“We want these reports read by everyone who cares about making this region flourish over the long term,” Sims said. “We’re going to need everyone pitching in to help.”