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Shelburne Falls group aims to pool business resources

Allen Davis, Executive Director of the GCC Foundation, expalining the annual fund campaign team on to solicit donations during the campaign kickoff breakfast at GCC Downtown Center Thursday morning. 07/04/12 Franz

Allen Davis, Executive Director of the GCC Foundation, expalining the annual fund campaign team on to solicit donations during the campaign kickoff breakfast at GCC Downtown Center Thursday morning. 07/04/12 Franz Purchase photo reprints »

CHARLEMONT — Many people feel the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association has helped to grow businesses in Buckland and Shelburne, but some businesses in the other eight hilltowns served by the association don’t know what the organization could do to help them.

That’s one reason the association and the Shelburne Falls Partnership is starting a new economic development program called “From the Ground Up Together.” The idea is to pool resources and know-how from throughout the 10 towns, so that those engaged in commerce in all the communities can help each other.

“We are starting small, yet thinking big,” said Whit Sanford, who is helping to organize this project. She said the first step will be to poll area businesses, farmers and artists with a one-page questionnaire to create “a state-of-the-art, interactive database that identifies the abundant skill sets and assets of our region.”

Sanford now runs Dragonfly Consulting. She is a past planner for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, and a co-director at Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. A two-year Shelburne resident, she is also an organizer for the Arms Library fundraiser for a new roof and other needed building repairs.

“From the Ground Up Together” organizers are hoping to find out about the businesses, organizations and people, to map and gather data that will improve the hilltown economy by “building a system of networks, partnerships and initiatives among our towns.”

On Friday, at the Business Association’s annual meeting at the Warfield House, member businesses filled out the questionnaire, indicating what type of businesses they have and what facilities, programs, websites or other resources they have that others should know about, within the towns of: Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Hawley, Heath, Plainfield, Rowe and Shelburne.

For instance: Is there any public parking areas in some of these towns? Where are there public restrooms or overnight accommodations?

“We want to know who has the assets to help, so that we can build a regional network,” Sanford explained. “We want to find out how we can build upon our strengths. We cannot do without one another.”

Sanford said that when she lived in Conway, she didn’t know much about the business association. “People from other towns don’t know about the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association and what it could mean for other regions.”

Sanford recently attended a meeting in which some of the longtime farming families voiced concerns about keeping their farms financially feasible. She said many of the farmers are in their 60s and their children aren’t succeeding them as farmers.

“I was struck by how much the farmers were looking for help with making their farms viable,” she said. “They keep our open space. The locals living here have spectacular views and, in terms of tourism, you couldn’t beat it for ambience.”

She said renewed economic viability of the region should enable them to have farms that are profitable.

Recently, the association was successful in making Shelburne Falls one of the first 10 communities in the state to be designated a state “cultural district,” but the organization has done much more, including offering members a group discount on heating oil that has saved members at least $100 annually. The Business Association has also sponsored several annual events in Shelburne Falls, started a composting program for Shelburne Falls restaurants, and helped the Shelburne Falls Area Vistor Center to get an iPad kiosk.

“The thing about this region is there are a lot of enthusiastic people who don’t know about one another,” said Sanford.

“This survey should hopefully build the membership base and do more for the region.”

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