Posted by: John Erickson | May 28, 2010

Concerning the King Arthur Flour Expansion

Recently the King Arthur Flour Company, a global provider of quality baking supplies based in my home town of Norwich, Vermont, proposed an expansion that would include a sewer extension. This issue is being debated locally, and I thought would provide good fodder for my blog…John Erickson

Since Jill and I moved to Norwich some 18 years ago, I’ve been troubled by what seems like a lack of support for sustainable economic development within our town. I’m proud that Norwich has a high-quality global company “like” King Arthur based here, a company that is employ-owned, successful and growing. At the same time I’m embarrassed that Norwich isn’t doing more to sustain the economic well being of the Upper Valley.

15 years ago this month partners and I began the process of launching a company called NetRghts. Loving Norwich and Vermont, I had a vision of starting a sustainable high-tech company that would be based here and would create local jobs. The inevitable question of where to base our company arose; being the Vermonter in the mix and drinking from the KoolAid of iconic successes like Green Mountain Gringo, I argued for us to set up offices in Norwich, Wilder or WRJ. My co-founders thought this was ludicrous; not only did they envision the (obvious to them) negative tax implications, but they also perceived no end of difficulty with infrastructure, etc. Since they had been successful with a previous Lebanon-based software startup, I went along for the ride and we set up shop in downtown Lebanon.

But I wouldn’t give up that easily. At one point Vermont eTV — remember them? — had a call-in with Gov Dean’s youthful, energetic director of economic development. Vermont had recently provided incentives for ETI’s expansion, and my direct question to “Slick” was: what can Vermont do to keep companies like ours in Vermont? Or, were my co-founders right, there (weren’t) any incentives to lure us to Vermont. His answer: regrettably, yes, my co-founders were right. If we needed money for bricks-n-mortar expansion to grow a widget-building business, yes, but since we were “knowledge-based,” nothing. Frankly, I was shocked, since this was during the same period that Gov Dean (who I’m a fan of!) was roaming the state advocating green high-tech businesses in cabins on mountaintops…

I’ve bored you with this ancient history in order to provide some context as to why I believe the citizens of Norwich should greet initiatives such as King Arthur’s with the question, what can we as neighbors do to help? Their opening proposal may or may not be ideal — I’m not saying “Roll over, little Norwich!” — but I do believe it is our responsibility to do what we can to foster economic development in this town, and this includes hearing their plans with an open mind.

I’m tired of Norwich not merely depending on, but assuming that other towns in the region will feed our hungry, host our homeless, pay our salaries, sell us our auto parts. Instead, we should be asking how we can help those among us with the initiative to bring it on home to Norwich…

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with King Arthur Flour, but I do confess to loving their products and have been known to roam their jobs portal from time to time…

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