Green Mountain Economic Development Corp gets $43,000 in grants for local business

first_imgAs the economic downturn continues to take its toll on entrepreneurs nationwide, six small businesses in the Upper Valley region of Vermont are pushing ahead with plans to expand their business prospects using technical assistance grants secured by the Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation (GMEDC).The six businesses, located in five towns of the GMEDC’s 30-town region, are leveraging the money to explore new markets, focus on financial controls, enhance visibility, and ultimately to expand and add jobs.‘One of the things we have found is that there is a lot of demand for these kinds of services, especially for small businesses,’ said GMEDC Executive Director Joan Goldstein. ‘Most entrepreneurs are focused on their core business, and doing it really well. What these grants help them do is to work on aspects of their enterprises that are not core, but could allow them to expand into new markets, offer new products and services, and really sharpen their business models.’GMEDC worked with the six businesses to secure the grant funding, which totalled $43,000. The businesses have used ‘ and in some cases are still using ‘ the funds for studies and consulting services to help them find ways to expand and add jobs. The funds were made available by the Vermont Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development and the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency.‘We are able to leverage these types of grants to do a tremendous amount of good for local businesses,’ said Goldstein. ‘The amount of potential that this grant has already unlocked makes the return on investment extremely high, on the order of several hundred percent so far, and the positive impact is still unfolding.’ The six businesses benefitting from the technical assistance grants include:Sound Innovations (White River Junction)In business since 2004, Sound Innovations is a six-employee firm that develops innovative in-ear communication and hearing protection products for military, industrial, and consumer applications. CEO Chris Pearson says the technical assistance grant allowed the firm to retain the services of a consultant who significantly expanded their future prospects, and is positioning them for future growth.Sound Innovations was contracted by the U.S. Army to develop and prototype technology for helicopter air crews to protect their hearing and clarify communications, but felt that the technology could also be applied in many other areas of the military, Pearson said. In order to receive funding for that extension of the technology, they needed the support of a major defense contractor that could help transition the technology.‘This grant enabled us to hire a consultant who had the right contacts at major defense contractors, and he was able to help us establish a relationship with one of the biggest,’ said Pearson. ‘With a strong letter of support from the defense contractor, we were able to win the $600,000 extension support program funding, and now the consultant is generating more business development opportunities for us.’Bread & Chocolate (Newbury)Employing 20 people during the July-to-December high season, this 22 year-old business retails Vermontbased and Vermont-branded specialty foods. Bread & Chocolate is using the technical assistance grant money to enhance its food-safety practices to meet third-party audit requirements, which will allow them to expand business to larger vendors, like specialty foods giant Harry & David.‘We had robust policies in place before, but increasingly, vendors are requiring a more formalized set of policies and practices,’ said Jonathon Rutstein, President of Bread & Chocolate. ‘This grant is allowing us to take these critical steps that we hope will ultimately expand our business and increase employment.’ShackletonThomas Furniture (Bridgewater)A maker of high-quality handmade furniture, pottery and accessories, ShackletonThomas is using the technical assistance grant money for two primary purposes: to refine its budget process, and to focus its branding. ‘In this economy when you see lots of businesses failing, these are the kinds of services that are really important,’ said Charles Shackleton, founder and creative director of the company. ‘The consultants we were able to hire were extremely helpful and gave us great tools.’Shackleton said the financial consultant not only allowed the company to establish and implement a robust set of financial controls, but also assisted in refining its strategic focus. And the branding work, he added, was equally helpful in zeroing in on the company’s core message and how to convey it to customers. The objective of both efforts, Shackleton noted, is to expand the customer base ShackletonThomas has been in business for 22 years, and employs 15 to 20 people.Bradford Veneer & Panel (Bradford)This 106 year-old wood products company is well-established in its market, but President and Owner Richard Parkin wants to position it for future growth by using the GMEDC-facilitated grant to develop a website. ‘Initially it will be about greater visibility,’ he said, ‘but as the market’s needs change and we offer new products, down the road we want to be able to offer them online, too.’Parkin said he anticipates the company’s website will be a critical tool in maintaining or growing sales volumes and retaining jobs, as well as preparing for future growth that he hopes will result in expansion beyond the company’s current head-count of eight.Parkin lauded the role of GMEDC in facilitating the grant for Bradford Veneer and Panel, but says he’s grateful for more than just the grant money. ‘I can’t stress enough how important the GMEDC is to businesses like ours,’ he said. ‘It’s the contacts that are so crucial. Small businesses need somewhere to get direction about where these kinds of resources are available, and that’s where GMEDC is instrumental.’Stephens Precision (Bradford)In business since 1981, Stephens Precision is a 16-employee, AS 9100-registered company that specializes in the machining of precision parts, gauges, and mechanical assemblies for aerospace and commercial industries. Ann Stephens, CEO of Stephens Precision, says the technical assistance grant money obtained through GMEDC is enabling the company to research potential new markets, both domestically and internationally, with the ultimate goal of expanding or retaining jobs.Vermont Verde Antique (Rochester/Hancock)As a company that quarries, handles, markets and sells a unique, dark green serpentine marble, Vermont Verde Antique is well-placed to do the same with other types of valuable stone.Tom Fabbioli, owner of Vermont Verde, says the company is leveraging the technical assistance grant money to explore just such a move. ‘We’re working on a feasibility study for the quarrying and marketing of another type of stone called schist,’ Fabbioli said. ‘It’s the state stone of Vermont, and it’s primarily what the Green Mountains are made of.’Vermont Verde, which recently purchased the former Vermont Plywood plant in Hancock, will use the grant money to see what type of markets might exist for the schist, and whether it would be a candidate for expanding the company’s offerings. ‘This could lead to a possible expansion and jobs,’ Fabbioli said, depending on the feasibility study’s results.Source: GMEDC. 8.20.2010last_img read more