By Bill Moore
Working at the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce gives one an interesting view on what is happening in Central Vermont. We keep an eye on commerce in the community and the impact that it has on our cities, towns and villages. Like a game of chess, strategic moves are made, oftentimes well in advance of the overall objective being accomplished. Some moves are obvious, some are very subtle.
An obvious move is the anticipated opening of Caledonia Spirit’s 30,000-square-foot riverfront distillery on Barre Street in Montpelier. Caledonia Spirits, the distiller of Barr Hill Gin and Vodka and Tom Cat Gin is expected to be open for business in late spring. Relocating from Hardwick, Vermont, the new location will include a distillery, tasting room, and visitor center resulting in 50 new jobs in the Capitol City.
Other obvious developments include the 1 Taylor Street Redevelopment Project, which will become a state-of-the-art transportation and housing center, and the proposed Hampton Inn & Suites and parking garage in downtown Montpelier. The recently announced 98 units of senior housing in Berlin to be developed by Heidenberg Properties Group and Dousevicz, a developer of over 500 senior housing units throughout Vermont is another such obvious project.
They are obvious because they are announced bricks and mortar projects; most have undergone thorough vetting and approval by the respective municipalities and, in some instances, by the state. Those that are under construction are even more obvious.
Not so obvious movement has also been occurring in Central Vermont. Over the past year, our already healthy financial services sector has seen an increased presence of banks. Joining a healthy portfolio that includes Community Bank NA, Community National Bank, KeyBank, Northfield Savings Bank, People’s United Bank and TD Bank are Bar Harbor Bank and Trust, Passumpsic Bank and Union Bank. Add in One Credit Union, Members Advantage Credit Union, North Country Credit Union and VSECU, and you get a good idea of the strength and the variety of savings and lending institutions that serve Central Vermont home.
Why are there so many options in a region with a relatively small population of approximately 58,200? Our board of directors has representatives from several banks, and I put the question to Kristin Hayes, the Barre Office Manager for Community National Bank. Ms. Hayes told me that there is a very strong residential lending market and that the commercial lending side is also very strong. “The business market is changing and becoming more technologically focused. Our customers prefer the face-to-face interaction that we provide. We are also available on-line for those who prefer that method of banking. Because of the market, rates are very attractive for borrowers and for savers.”
Christopher D’Elia, president of the Vermont Bankers Association, re-enforced Ms. Hayes’ comments. “The marketplace has seen more growth and more development occurring. Vermont banking in general is doing very well. Based on their own internal market analysis, banks are moving to where potential opportunities are.” Mr. D’Elia noted that banks have navigated through the regulatory environment resulting from the 2007-2008 downturn, and are in a stronger position. He noted that Vermont banks were not necessarily part of those past bad lending practices and did not encounter the problems that larger, national institutions encountered.
My takeaway from the conversations is that there is a healthy atmosphere for lending in Central Vermont and that this market has been identified as a place for growth. I read that as meaning we are well-poised for further development. I also believe that we are positioned to ride out any disruptions in the economy that we might experience in the near term.
Whether commercial customers are looking to expand their businesses or individuals are seeking higher savings rates, there are plenty of options in Central Vermont. That point is very obvious.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.