Timeline: Town & Gown

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During the past decade, Middlebury College has engaged with the local community on a number of landmark initiatives:

The College and the town renegotiate a “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT) agreement in which the College will make an annual contribution to the town, the sum of which is tied to the performance of Middlebury’s endowment. (In 2013, this payment was $251,617.) Middlebury annually pays around $690,000 in taxes on property being used for purposes not directly tied to the mission of educating students.

The College pledges $1 million to complete the renovation of the Town Hall Theater (THT), an ambitious community effort to renovate and restore a 19th-century building—which once housed the town hall and later an opera house—in the heart of Middlebury. The $1 million pledge, on top of an earlier $250,000 gift, capped off the $5 million project. With this partnership, Middlebury students are afforded the opportunity to work with community members on theater productions, while THT also commits to working College productions—including summer Language School performances and a winter term production—into its seasonal lineup.

The College pledges $9 million to help fund the construction of a new in-town bridge, which will provide a second major crossing of Otter Creek. Designed to ease traffic congestion and provide an additional route for emergency vehicles, the new bridge carries a cost of $16 million; with the College’s contribution, the project is fast-tracked, ending more than 50 years of stalled efforts to construct a second in-town crossing. The bridge opened in 2010.

The town and the College reach an agreement to jointly fund the construction of a new town hall and town recreation facility, with the College contributing $5.5 million toward the $7.5 million project. In addition to the new construction, the College and the town agree to swap land parcels. The new town office will be built adjacent to the Ilsley Library on land once owned by the College. The College will acquire town land at the intersection of Main and College Streets, turning this area into a triangular public park and green space. The town of Middlebury voted to approve this proposal in 2014.

The College and town finalize a project in which the College acquires and conveys to the town an empty building on Main Street, which will be razed and turned into pedestrian access to the town’s Marble Works commercial district.

The College conveys to the town more than an acre of riverfront property behind the Ilsley Library, which the town will join with its own land holdings to develop future retail, commercial, and residential projects.

The College renegotiates its PILOT with Ripton, agreeing to a 10-year deal to pay the municipality $157,000 annually in recognition of the nontaxable property the institution owns there. In addition, Ripton schoolchildren are to be provided free ski lessons at the Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center.

This Is Not Business As Usual

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Jamie Gaucher, Director of Business Development, Town of Middlebury

Jamie Gaucher, Director of Business Development, Town of Middlebury

How an innovative partnership between the College and town is boosting the local economy.

Just after breakfast on a warm fall morning, Jamie Gaucher walks down the steps of the Middlebury Inn and around to his Honda minivan. He noses the car out of the parking lot, following an itinerary that’s become very familiar. “I like to start downtown,” he says, pointing out the white façade of the Congregational Church, driving past the town green and down Merchant’s Row, then heading left on Main Street and up toward the College campus.

He’ll take a visitor inside the Davis Family Library before returning to the car. Then he continues out past the athletic facilities and back toward Middlebury’s industrial park on Exchange Street. All the while, he asks polite questions about the guest’s business, what resources it needs to be successful—and offers subtle guidance on why setting up shop in Middlebury would be a great way to help the enterprise grow.

Gaucher may seem an unlikely tour guide: Before 2012, he’d never been to Vermont. But since April of 2013, when he became the town of Middlebury’s first-ever director of business development, he’s been talking up the region at trade fairs and on cold calls—and when he finds a receptive business owner, he invites them for this nickel tour.

Gaucher, a 6-foot-4-inch New York native who came to Middlebury after 14 years as an economic development official in West Virginia, is the most visible evidence of an unusual initiative that’s the culmination of years of work by College officials. The aim: to bring new economic vitality and more jobs to the town of Middlebury in an attempt to reduce tax burdens, assist with faculty recruitment, and create new opportunities for students. “We have a guiding principle that what’s good for the College is good for the town, and vice versa, so to the extent we can help each other, all the better,” says College President Ronald Liebowitz. “Jamie Gaucher’s position is part and parcel of that.”

It’s an effort that goes far beyond the hiring of the man the local press has dubbed “Middlebury’s jobs czar.” It’s an opportunity to leverage burgeoning student interest in entrepreneurship, a passion fueled by academic programs that have grown over the last decade. It’s also aimed at convincing a growing class of telecommuters—who, in theory, can live anywhere—to consider relocating to Middlebury. Although the various initiatives, some of them funded by the College, are not yet a clear-cut success, most observers are encouraged by early results. The effort seems likely to be one piece of what people in Middlebury will recall about Liebowitz’s decade-long presidency when he steps down in 2015. “This is one of Ron’s legacies,” says Jon Isham, an economics professor who’s been a central part of the efforts. “It wouldn’t have happened without him, and the reason it happened is that he brought us all together, then let us all run with it.”

Indeed, the efforts underway today are only part of a broader strategy that emerged a decade ago. Though Middlebury is sometimes referred to as the “Town’s College,” the relationship between the two hasn’t always been so symbiotic. For generations, while many students moved back and forth between the College and the town without a thought, there was little cooperation at an official level. It was almost as if the two existed in different worlds.


Middlebury President Ronald D. Liebowitz

Soon after Liebowitz took office, Bruce Hiland, a former McKinsey consultant and publishing executive who had moved to Addison County in 1987, approached the College’s new president and proposed a meeting with a group of local business leaders. Even today, Liebowitz recalls that he was skeptical given the often-stated “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” reality when it came to greater College engagement in the town. But Hiland was persistent and challenged the group to come up with some “big ideas” for the town. Once they started talking, progress came quickly, though the project first identified was not feasible and came to naught. Within three years, though, the College had pledged $1 million to support the $5 million renovation of Town Hall Theater and then $9 million to help fund construction of an in-town bridge over Otter Creek, an idea that had been a seemingly unachievable dream for 50 years. The bridge opened in 2010.

But even with the investment in infrastructure and amenities, the need to bring more jobs to the area remained. In 2006, the College hired Spencer Cox ’08 as a summer intern to work closely with Dave Donahue ’91, special assistant to the president of the College, and Hiland to study the issue. “Although the town of Middlebury is not in a state of crisis, long-empty storefronts [and] a slowing economy have sparked concerns that Middlebury is falling behind,” Cox wrote in a report that examined how other institutions—including Dartmouth, Marlboro, and Colgate—were partnering with their towns.

Within months of Cox’s report, concern over the lagging local economy spiked. In January of 2007, two of Middlebury’s largest employers, Standard Register and Specialty Filament, announced plans to close their local facilities, resulting in a combined loss of 287 jobs. (The College, with approximately 1,200 full-time employees, remains the largest employer in both the town and in Addison County.) Middlebury has just 6,588 residents and 1,996 households (according to the 2010 Census), so that scale of job loss had a giant impact. The fallout from the plant closings served as a reminder of something Liebowitz had been saying for years: that beneath the “veneer of prosperity” created by its rural beauty and picturesque campus, the town of Middlebury isn’t as affluent as it might appear. According to census data, 17.5 percent of town residents live below the poverty line, and its median household income of $47,849 falls below the state average by more than 10 percent.

Cover Essay: What’s on His Mind?

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harlowWebFor many years, my parents had a rough-coated Jack Russell terrier, a breed of dog known to be tough, tenacious, very smart, and extremely moody. (About the only quality he shared with Harlow, our cover dog and model on this page, was his smarts. Harlow is chill and very sweet; and very sweet; Woody, most definitely, was not.)

In his later years, as Woody’s energy began to wane, it seemed that his mental acuity—which would occasion behavior best described as devious—increased. Jack Russells are an active breed; when Woody’s stamina started to slide, his mind took over. Or so it appeared.

When my sister was getting married, my parents threw a cookout for out-of-town guests; my family being from the South, barbecue was the featured fare. It was a casual gathering, paper plates on laps enjoyed outside in the mid-spring weather. Of course, paper plates on laps subsequently became paper plates on the ground. And this is where Woody comes into the story. At one point that night, I witnessed Woody trot by with a half-eaten barbecue sandwich in his mouth. I chalked it up to him having received a right generous snack from one of our guests—until a few minutes later when I saw him trot past with another sandwich. I followed him this time, watching him scamper under a bush, only to emerge moments later with no sandwich. After he had trotted off again, I looked under the bush and discovered a pile of sandwiches, in various states of being consumed. Woody had been pilfering sandwiches off the plates of unsuspecting folks and . . . was saving them for later? Are dogs capable of planning ahead?

I hadn’t thought much about this particular episode until I found myself sitting in on Jason Arndt’s first-year seminar on animal cognition. On the morning of my visit, the class was discussing mental time travel. The question being examined: “When animals plan, are they imagining the future?” I was barely sitting down before I was wondering, Was Woody imagining himself in the future chowing down on those sandwiches?

While my thoughts were on Woody, the attention of the class—eight women and five men, plus their instructor, arrayed around a long table—was focused on a chimpanzee that lived in a zoo in Sweden. On the days when the zoo was to be opened, this fellow would gather rocks, store them in specific, strategically located piles, and then, hours later, hurl them at gawking visitors.

“I don’t know how strong of an argument this is, but he had to have thought this through,” one student said. But does planning ahead equate to mental time travel? Arndt wondered. Is the chimp thinking, as he’s gathering rocks, I’ll show them! “As far as I know,” he added, “chimps don’t cache things in nature.”

The consensus  was that yes, this chimp was picturing himself throwing those stones as he gathered them. (“He’s thinking, I’m so pumped.”) The scientific community seems split on the subject of
mental time travel in animals. But I know where I land. I’m convinced that Woody was thinking, on that spring evening, I’m so pumped.

Regarding Stameshkin

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StameshkinWebAround Middlebury, the name Stameshkin is more of a proper noun. As in, “Check Stameshkin,” or, “Here’s what I found in Stameshkin.”

David Stameshkin is the author of The Town’s College: Middlebury College, 1800-1915 and The Strength of the Hills, 1915-1990, a two-volume set that serves as our official history. Many, though, no longer link the name to an actual person and instead simply affix the moniker to disembodied authority. So on an otherwise languorous summer afternoon, I had a hard time reconciling this accepted definition of “Stameshkin” with the bushy-haired, mustachioed, spectacled fellow who had just popped into my office and good-naturedly introduced himself as David Stameshkin. My confusion only deepened when he proffered his latest book: not the long-awaited (in some quarters) third volume of Stameshkin—see!—but a slender paperback whose title immediately signaled a twist on the now-familiar conceit of people listing all the activities they wish to do before shuffling off their mortal coils. Playfully tweaking the form—even after strategically inserting asterisks, we’ve chosen to leave the actual words to your imagination—and announcing “things I will not be doing before I die,” David Stameshkin’s new book left me briefly speechless. But not for long.

Since reading this riotously funny, yet also poignant and reflective book, I’ve been recommending it to friends, colleagues—even strangers. It’s refreshing how Stameshkin (the man) has prompted me to think about what I wish to accomplish in ways that the myriad and plentiful “bucket lists” never have.

Before leaving my office, the author told me he still wants to write one more historical monograph before he kicks the…you know. It won’t be volume three, he said, but it will be Middlebury-centric: a biography of Joseph Battell, one of the more pivotal characters in this institution’s history. Not to knock the 19th-century benefactor or what will surely be an insightful account of his life, but doesn’t this news make what Stameshkin doesn’t plan on doing with the rest of his years more enticing?

Annual Giving Trees! (go/givingtrees)

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Please note: The process is much earlier this year AND we are converting to an e-sign up system! While you’ll need to return gifts to Community Engagement, as usual, you can now sign up to participate online!

Help sponsor a local child whose family cannot afford to buy presents for the holiday season through the Giving Trees program, in collaboration with the local organization H.O.P.E (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects). Each “tree” gives ideas of possible gifts to help you with the selection process. HOPE then invites participating parents to make selections among donated items in a “Holiday Shop” so that they may best match gifts with their own children’s interests.

Here’s how to participate:

• Sign up for an “e-tree” through the Community Engagement office by visiting go/givingtrees beginning Monday, October 27th, 2014. You can sign up any time between October 27th and November 10th.

• You can sponsor a “tree” by yourself, with a friend, as a department or in another type of group collaboration!

• We ask that you consider spending a minimum amount of $50 per “tree” – but please don’t let this discourage you from participating! We strongly encourage you to team up with friends and co-workers to maximize the fun and impact of each Giving Tree!

• Please do NOT wrap gifts (so parents can see what they are), but you are welcome to donate wrapping paper if you wish.

• Gifts must be brought to Community Engagement at 118 South Main Street by Wednesday or Thursday, November 12th or 13th between 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Please note a few key changes to this year’s Giving Tree program, in collaboration with HOPE, (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects):

• HOPE is creating a “Holiday Store” that will enable parents to come in and make their own selections. To accommodate this approach, the “Giving Trees” will still work as they have, in that you’ll have a child (boy or girl with corresponding ages), etc., but we won’t be matching specific gifts with specific children.

• The store will open at HOPE for parents on Nov. 17th, so we need to collect the gifts before that time (see dates above)!

• Finally, remember that the Community Engagement office is now at 118 South Main St., on the corner of South Main St. and Storrs Ave., behind the Library!

If you have any questions, please e-mail qtennyson@middlebury.edu. As always, take care and thank you for your support and participation.

Quanteshia Tennyson ’14
AmeriCorps VISTA Member / Poverty Initiatives Coordinator
Community Engagement
118 South Main Street
Middlebury College Ɩ Middlebury, VT 05753

Stop by for an amazing Halloween deal!

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Interested in a career in innovation? Save the date! MiddVentures Career Call happening next Thursday, November 6th!!

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Started in early 2014, Midd Venture Career Calls are intended to prepare undergraduate students for careers with innovative, growth companies. The calls focus on advising students with all aspects of the job search process. The call will feature reflections and advice from young alumni who founded their own businesses or are working in creative environments. What: MiddVentures […]