NEK Economic Report: Confidence in the local economy but missing northern neighbors

NEK Economic Report: Confidence in the local economy but missing northern neighbors

Photo: St. Johnsbury. Photo Courtesy Downriver Media.

by Olga Peters, Vermont Business Magazine The Northeast Kingdom is open for business. In many ways, it never closed, despite a global pandemic.

Economic development projects have continued across the region, new businesses have opened in Newport and St. Johnsbury, and home sales have remained steady.

The pandemic has yet to finish with Vermont. The NEK has experienced some of the highest rates of new COVID infections in the state, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard. In October, a quarter of new COVID cases recorded in Vermont were in Orleans County despite making up only four percent of the state’s population.

Even with the US-Canadian border reopening, the Orleans, Caledonia, and Essex economies are still feeling the loss of Canadian visitors.

“It never slowed down really at all, just from our perspective, we were just presented a whole set of new challenges,” said David Snedeker.

“But then we’ve had economic development projects happening all right along of varying sizes and locations in the region,” the executive director of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) added.

According to the latest numbers from the Vermont Department of Labor, the two NEK labor markets tracked by the department have lower unemployment rates than the state average of 2.9 percent. The Derby (Orleans County) labor market’s rate is 2.8 percent. The rate for the St. Johnsbury (Caledonia County) market is 2.0 percent.

Where the NEK counties are also lower than the state average is median household income.

According to the US Census Bureau, the state’s median household income is $61,973. For Caledonia County, that number is $50,563. Next is Orleans, with a median household income of $49,168. Essex County’s is $44,349.

Where the NEK counties average higher than the state is their poverty rates. Missing Their Neighbors

Snedeker said, “The border reopening is going to be hopefully big for a lot of our businesses, especially with ski season coming in.”

The US reopened its land borders with Canada and Mexico for nonessential border crossings in November. Travelers into the US need to show proof of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus.

Some of the requirements for people entering Canada include showing they are fully vaccinated and presenting a negative COVID test administered 72 hours before reentering the country.

Karen O’Donnell from the Jay Peak Chamber of Commerce said that the current costs for testing are posing a challenge for travelers.

“Costs associated with reentering seem to be very difficult for our border friends,” she said. “Easing the costs would help to encourage doing business in the US.”

Jay Peak spokesperson JJ Toland said half of the mountain’s visitors are from Canada.

He said that the resort is speaking with a local lab to see if it can offer on-site COVID tests to make visiting Vermont easier.

“We’ve missed you,” he said. “The border closing was a big kick in the shins last year.”Real estate agent Ryan Pronto noted, “Another thing for the Northeast Kingdom that’s a little different than the state is that before COVID, 25 percent of all of our sales are to Canadians.”For the past two years, his office hasn’t worked with any Canadian home buyers. Instead, many Canadians are selling their NEK properties. Never Stopped NVDA serves Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans counties. It provides a dual role as regional planning commission and regional economic development corporation.The $12 million Hardwick Yellow Barn Business Accelerator is progressing. Work started three years ago. The team behind the accelerator aims to expand the region’s farm- and food-based economy. The construction project includes building a two-story multi-purpose building and repurposing a historic yellow barn.Snedeker said once completed, the facility is expected to bring 50 jobs to the area. Cheesemakers Jasper Hill and Cabot have signed on as anchor tenants.The NVDA is working to acquire Newport’s former Bogner Incorporated plant on Lake Road. The site was slated to become a biomedical research center but instead became caught in the alleged EB-5 fraud at Jay Peak.According to Snedeker, the Bogner facility is still under receivership. NVDA wants to purchase the building to assist a growing Newport manufacturing company TRACK Inc. This $3 million project is expected to bring approximately 25 jobs to the area, he said.This year also saw the creation of the Newport Development Fund through the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, designed to create economic development opportunities in Newport.The fund responds to the alleged EB-5 fraud and the loss of multiple developments that were never realized with the EB-5 investor program falling apart in 2016.As of November, […]

source NEK Economic Report: Confidence in the local economy but missing northern neighbors

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