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New Initiative Focuses on Economic and Educational Opportunities for the Region

New Initiative Focuses on Economic and Educational Opportunities for the Region


November 1, 2011

Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom has long been characterized by limited economic opportunities and a low percentage of residents with a four-year college education. Lyndon State College is working to reverse this trend with the establishment of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship (CRE). The creation of the CRE is the latest step in fulfilling the College’s mission of educating first-in-family and low- and moderate-income students, and serving as an economic engine for the region.

The CRE represents a natural outgrowth of two existing programs at the College: Incubator Without Walls (IWoW) and the Northeast Kingdom Manufacturing Training Program. These and other new initiatives on the drawing boards will now be under the umbrella of the CRE and its director, Ann Nygard, who has been promoted from her previous position as director of IWoW. The CRE will continue to work alongside the College’s Leahy Center for Rural Students to raise student aspirations in the Northeast Kingdom and to spark workforce development.

IWoW matches the expertise of Lyndon faculty and students in support of local businesses in the form of technical assistance including market analysis, business plan development, cost analysis, and graphic and web design. Since its creation three yeas ago, IWoW has provided support for 52 different enterprises in the Northeast Kingdom, including Kennametal, Kent’s Soda, and Kingdom Kernal Kettle Corn.

Another IWoW client is Sutton’s Tara Lynn Designs. Fashion designer and dress maker Tara Lynn Scheidet recently hired her first employee-an LSC accounting student who had been working with her as part of the IWoW program. Tara says, “I really appreciate the time, energy, and passion the IWoW students are putting in to help me improve my business operations and plans. As a result of their cost analysis, I have doubled the price of my dresses. Who knows where I would be now if I had been charging what I should have been charging for the last three years?”

Central to the mission of the CRE is steering regional education efforts from pre-kindergarten through grade 16 toward four industry “clusters” that have the best potential to keep and create jobs in the NEK that require a college degree. Working with Northeastern Vermont Development Agency (NVDA) and the Vermont Department of Labor, these industries have been identified as manufacturing, tourism, agriculture/working landscape, and bio-medical.

A key component of efforts to support the manufacturing cluster has been the Northeast Kingdom Manufacturing Training Program (NEKMTP), taught at the Charles Carter Business Resource Center in the Lyndonville/St. Johnsbury Industrial Park. This intensive program includes equal parts classroom instruction and hands-on training in computer numerical control machining. Qualified candidates participate in the program free of charge. The NEKMTP graduated its second class of trainees on October 26, bringing the total to 11 newly-qualified machinists. The next class is scheduled to start in January 2012. Short-term, customized trainings for incumbent employees of area manufacturers will take place for the remainder of 2011.

The NEKMTP is a partnership between the College, Lyndon Institute, St. Johnsbury Academy, the Vermont Department of Labor, NVDA, and Northern Community Investment Corporation. Employer partners are Northeast Precision, NSA industries, Vermont Aerospace, and Weidmann.

Efforts supporting the development of the CRE have been aided by a $150,000 gift to the College pledged earlier this year and the recent award of two significant grants. In July, the College secured a $66,867 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the USDA Rural Development to continue providing technical assistance to local businesses through IWoW.

On October 5, Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Representative Peter Welch, and Governor Peter Shumlin announced that $128,500 in Northern Border Regional Commission funds will go to support economic development projects. The College and NVDA will use these funds to boost manufacturing in the area by developing professional resources; creating collaboration among Northeast Kingdom manufacturing employers; expanding training programs; and furthering collaborative programs between area high schools, career and technical centers, and Lyndon State College.

A native of the Northeast Kingdom, CRE Director Ann Nygard is a graduate of the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. She went on to receive her M.B.A. at Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration in Finland. After working in Europe and Africa for thirteen years, Ann decided to return to the NEK to raise her family in 2002. Prior to taking on her duties at Lyndon, Ann worked as the executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association and in Washington, D.C. as Associate Director of The Center for Sustainable Destinations at the National Geographic Society.

Ann notes, “The stronger the nest you build, the further you can fly. The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship will help students build upon their classroom education at every age and stage by engaging them in real-world, work-based learning in growth industries in the NEK. By fostering the collaboration and coordination of local businesses and educators, those growing up in the NEK will be better equipped to spread their professional wings and soar.”