TECH VILLAGE
Deerfield Valley Vermont - Live, Code, Ski
By Rob Minearo

The Deerfield Valley is a community in south-central Vermont composed of ten towns:  Dover, home of Mount Snow Ski Resort, Wilmington, Wardsboro, Marlboro, Searsburg, Stamford, and Readsboro, Whittingham, Jacksonville, and Halifax. The Deerfield Valley often includes Stratton, the home of Stratton Mountain Ski Resort.

In our fall 2018 issue of Vermont Innovator magazine, we examined the start-up culture in Vermont and found that other than Burlington and a few other towns, much of Vermont is struggling to find its way in the new global economy.

The Deerfield Valley is also struggling to find its place. The Valley’s economic development organizations, government, and Chamber of Commerce already have what they need to start the process of creating what will attract highly educated individuals and well-funded small start-up companies that will move to the valley and move it forward.        

A start-up renaissance could transform the Deerfield Valley into a year-round destination, and secure more opportunities for families that want to make the Valley their permanent home. The “powers-that-be” just need to envision it and begin.

Where There is Great Change There is Great Opportunity
Because of the two renowned ski areas in the Deerfield Valley, much of the real estate is being bought up by wealthy second homeowners from out-of-state. The increase in property costs is forcing out struggling Vermont families that do not have the funds or opportunity to stay in the Deerfield Valley region.

What this transition has created is the same effect that happens throughout the more desirable parts of the United States, Great Britain, and Europe. As lower-income families are forced out by multiple-home buyers, “dead zones” develop where housing is left empty most of the year.

Over the last few years, the Deerfield Valley leaders have taken stop-gap measures to attempt to change the tide of dead zones overtaking the Valley. Many of the proposals set forth across the valley seem to look to an era gone by which is referred to as "smokestack chasing," i.e., using incentives to encourage business that does not work anymore.

There is a crucial factor that Valley organizations need to confront – Vermont's Deerfield Valley or Upper Valley or Mad River Valley will never be like it was; Vermont will never be like it was. We can't look at past solutions because the future is here, and the state needs to adjust to the new world thinking.

A New Internal U.S. Migration Offers New Opportunities
There is now, as in the industrial revolution, a multi-level internal United States migration taking place. A large part of the present-day movement is being fueled by young entrepreneurs pursuing start-ups with the possibility of creating intellectual property gold.

Many of these start-ups employ few people and have a hard time succeeding in the high-cost technology epicenter, Silicon Valley. Innovators are moving out of California, looking for other options to build their dreams.

At present, there are 27 million entrepreneurs in the United States. This number does not include freelancers, independent contractors working for corporations, or adjunct professors, whose numbers have surpassed full-tenured professors at colleges and universities.

This number also does not include participants of the new gig economy, which supplies Uber, Lift, GrubHub, and other so-called self-employment opportunities.

Fifty-seven percent of U.S. workers will be considered independent by 2020. This means that most U.S. residents will be working for themselves without health and other benefits and, in most cases, job security. This lack of job security is creating a dynamic where many of these independent workers must regularly move to find employment.

Create It And The Money Will Follow
Whenever the U.S. has had a massive internal migration, the money soon followed. In the fifties, the middle class moved out of the cities to the suburbs such as Levittown. The result of this massive internal migration to the suburbs was the deterioration of the urban landscapes in the cities, particularly by the seventies, because the money followed the middle-class out to the suburbs.

Beginning in the eighties, with a new tech culture, young people rejected the suburban lifestyle of their parents and began to move back into the cities. Seventy-five percent of the U.S. population now lives in or near coastal cities.

This migration back to the cities has left most of the central area of the country in decline. Six thousand-plus communities across the heartland have decaying infrastructure like Flint, Michigan. The money follows the innovators and entrepreneurs and those left behind will feel the pinch.

The Future Is Now?
Deerfield Valley needs to recreate itself to attract not only the wealthy second homeowners who come to buy a home near the slopes but innovators, entrepreneurs, and blue-collar workers who will follow.

The right development in the Deerfield Valley could be the Levittown of today. The Valley does not need to rebuild Levittown, but it can look to modern-day examples of opportunities successfully meeting the needs of the new highly educated U.S. migrants. Each can be duplicated in Deerfield Valley, given the commitment, vision, and money – grants, loans, investments.

College Retirement Villages
In 2010 the New England Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) gave a symposium in Boston on the declining enrollment rate of undergraduates due to a negative growth rate in the United States. In 27 years, half of the current 6,500 colleges and universities in the US will be closed.

Trying to meet this challenge, higher education is expanding their reach, primarily through consortia, to other countries, particularly China, the Middle East, and India.

In the 1970s, colleges and universities began to witness a migration change with a large percentage of aging Americans and retirees. Retirees were not content to just relax at a golf course—they wanted a more intellectually challenging retirement.

To meet a new opportunity and to enhance their bottom line, academia built high-end university-based retirement communities, or UBRCs, around campuses. There are currently about 100 UBRCs, and the number is growing, including at Dartmouth, Cornell, and Stanford.

Agrihoods
Another new development opportunity is taking root across the United States. An innovative housing developer, Steve Nygren, had a simple idea. He grew up on a farm and thought that if he built a neighborhood village integrated with farmlands, it would attract upper-middle-class professionals yearning for community, nature, and good food.

He purchased land in a rural area outside Atlanta, Georgia, and took a financial risk to build the first agrihood, which he named “Serenbe.” The community of high-end houses, starting at $700,000, surrounds a working farm staffed with professional farmers. Residents can walk the peaceful streets and buy all their produce at the weekend farmers’ market. Serenbe is wildly successful and continues to grow.

Agrihoods, also called conservation communities or farm-to-table communities, number several dozens now, with 100 more in the planning stages. Demand is outpacing the development.

Vermont’s farm communities include South Village in Burlington, a sizeable self-described agrihood that offers single-family home, condos, and land centered on a 12-acre organic farm; Cobb Hill Cohousing in Hartland, situated on 270 acres of former dairy farms; and Ten Stones in Charlotte, created as a co-village in the 1980s.

CODAM Tech Village, Amsterdam, Holland
A report by the European Union stated that Europe will have a shortage of 526,000 information and communications technology (ITC) professionals by next year. To help create the next generation of Holland’s ITC professions, entrepreneur Corinne Vigreux, a founder of TomTom, funded a coding school and tech village, CODAM.

Any person between the ages of 18 and 30 with any level of technical skill, from beginner to advanced, has free access to the facility. After passing an eight-week test, they can participate in a three-year degree program for free, and then graduates have an opportunity to make TomTom an IT career stepping stone. CODAM opened its doors in September 2018 and is already in the process of expansion.

Deerfield Valley Tech Village, Step One — Coworking, Makerspace, Coding College
The failed Silo Restaurant on Route 100 in Dover was the inspiration for this article. The Silo, like many commercial buildings for sale in the Deerfield Valley, has been sitting idle for over a year, waiting for the next entrepreneur to take a gamble.

The Silo is only one example of buildings in the Deerfield Valley that could be a significant stepping stone to changing the Valley dynamics. The Silo's funky design and location is perfect for a co-working space, makerspace, or tech training center. The Silo is across from Mount Snow Ski Resort, and centrally located to Albany, NY, Greenfield, MA, and Keene, NH.

Deerfield Valley Tech Village, Step Two – Housing
Local papers often comment about Vermont’s lack of affordable housing. However, in the Deerfield Valley ski hub, there are thousands of townhouses, condos, motel/hotel rooms, and rooms at inns that are empty most of the year.

Many of these homes are either owned by second homeowners, rented during the ski season or are waiting to be purchased. Most of the year they lie empty, not adding additional revenue to Deerfield Valley’s businesses or tax base or increasing year-round opportunities for work. Consider what highly paid, highly educated workers are putting up with in California. The average rent in San Francisco is $3,400 per month. The cost of an average tiny house is well over one million dollars.

Most of these workers do not want to own a house, because a house takes a lot of time and work to maintain. Most techies work long hours and are living in tiny apartments. A totally furnished condo for under $300,000 would be a steal for these professionals, and even the $700,000-plus premium townhomes and condos would be welcomed.

With the amenities that most of these homes already come with – pools, work-out spaces and tennis courts, close to skiing and restaurants, within a morning’s drive to Albany, Boston or NYC – these condos would be attractive to the relocating tech worker.

Deerfield Valley Tech Village, Step Three – Bandwidth
A meaningful conversation has been taking place in the Deerfield Valley about increasing the availability of bandwidth and tower signal strength for cell phones. A solution to this challenge just may be in creating a tech village.

An average cost of a T1, or digital transmission carrier 1 line is $212 to $1,200 per month.  A T1 line plugs into a network's router and supports 24 channels. 

A T3 line is faster, at about 43 to 90 megabits per second. The average cost of a T3 line is $3,000 to $6,000 per month. This bandwidth cost could be rolled into the Tech Village to spread the cost.

It is not financially feasible for companies to run fiber-optic cable to every home and business in Deerfield Valley. Build a tech village with year-round residential workers, and then it would be financially feasible to upgrade Deerfield Valley.

Deerfield Valley Tech Village, Step Four – Transportation
Millennials are choosing not to buy cars. If Deerfield Valley leaders want to establish a tech village, they must consider a level of modern-day transportation that reflects the needs of techies moving to the valley.

Some of the considerations would include increased shuttle operation between facilities, Zip Car and other rental services like Uber and Lift. If a tech village were built, a transitional transportation system would need to be installed, because in a short period other innovators and entrepreneurs would see an opportunity. Build it and they will come, other opportunities arise, and the money shows up.

Deerfield Valley Tech Village, Step Five — Deerfield Valley Technology Consortium
It may be in the best interest of the ski resorts, companies, businesses, and non-profit organizations to work together and create a Deerfield Valley Technology Consortium to focus on the significant transition of creating a new Deerfield Valley.

Deerfield Valley Tech Village, Step Six – Marketing and Communications
It doesn't matter how well thought out the plan is if no one knows about it, or at least the right people. This is where a well-thought-out multi-level marketing and communications plan could change the tide for all.

The most crucial factor in a comprehensive marketing plan is identifying, reaching, and persuading the target audience. It takes a marketing plan that includes print and digital media, and much more.

Deerfield Valley Tech Village – Vermont Lifestyle
It’s going to take big ideas and substantial commitments with the Deerfield Valley community and “powers-that-be” to change the path for Deerfield Valley.

Lifestyle is the most significant selling point for Vermont, but not necessarily the lifestyle described most of the time. Ask a Vermont resident what is best about the lifestyle, and four out of five would say, skiing, hiking, sailing – describing an outdoor lifestyle. But Vermont’s lifestyle goes much deeper than just outdoor events.

The true Vermont lifestyle also consists of a government and citizens who are, for the most part, socially progressive, accepting of diversity, and seeking community.

Vermont has many times been voted as one of the healthiest and best states to live in the U.S. Vermont has an energy like no other in any other part of the country. It permeates Vermont and attracts the best and brightest to come here to live and work.

What keeps many small start-ups holding onto the Silicon Valley dream is the other innovators and entrepreneurs in the area. Innovators need to have a ready stream of tech professionals who, at a moment’s notice, will hook onto a rising well-funded start-up star. When these start-ups move to other areas of the country, the workers follow.

Why not a tech village in the Deerfield Valley, catering to those start-up pioneers who want to be a part of a community, ski, snowboard, hike, sail, and perhaps meet up with other innovators with the same aspirations to succeed in Vermont?

Rob Minearo is the publisher of Vermont Innovator magazine and business development director at Gallagher Close Publishing and Communications. He resides with his family, chickens, bees, and animals on a farm in West Wardsboro, Vermont.

SOURCE:
CBS Sunday Morning: Homes Sprouting Up Around Farms
Inc Magazine: The U.S. Has 27 Million Entrepreneurs
Financial Times: CODAM, A New Way to Train Much-Needed Tech Professionals
NBC News, CNN, Vice News: Reporting Co-Living and Co-Working Spaces
Retirement Living Magazine, AARP, Huffington Post: College and University Retirement Villages
Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur Magazine, PBS News Hour, Financial Times: GIG Economy
NPR: Rise of the Contract Workforce

College Benefits Group