A $500 million economic development project in the Northeast Kingdom that was unveiled on Thursday promises 10,000 jobs in a region that badly needs an economic boost.
The rural part of the state has been seen for decades as a chancy place to invest.
But where some see rural decline, Jay Peak Resort President Bill Stenger sees skiable mountains, livable towns, an affordable waterfront, and a workforce eager to roll up its sleeves.
And he’s convinced a number of investors-some from abroad-to share that vision.
"Today is not so much about Jay Peak, but it is about taking a program we have proven effective here and expanding its value to our surrounding community," he said.
With his partner, Ariel Quiros, Stenger has mounted a plan that goes well beyond tourism.
By the end of 2014, if all goes as expected, a new 75,000-square-foot building will go up in Newport to house a South Korean bio-tech company and a German window manufacturer.
The state airport in nearby Coventry will be expanded. Downtown Newport will get a large new conference center and hotel. And by the end of 2015, Burke Mountain Ski Resort will get four new lodges similar to those already built at Jay Peak.
Those plans and the promise of jobs brought thunderous applause from an overflow audience at Jay Peak, including Governor Peter Shumlin and the state’s congressional delegation.
Senator Bernie Sanders thanked Stenger for bringing hope to a beautiful area that’s seen an exodus of young people.
"But you can’t live on beauty alone," Sanders said. "You can’t raise a family, you can’t give an education to your kids on beauty alone. And the saddest thing that happens, and I know this, is that folks who grow up in this part of the world, who love this part of the world, see their kids leave because there are no jobs here."
So the prospect of the jobs, including about 2,000 in temporary construction, is seen as momentous in the history of the Northeast Kingdom.
It’s especially satisfying to those who have watched companies ship work overseas. In this case, it’s the other way around, because most of the financing for these seven projects is coming through the federal EB 5 program, which allows foreign investors who create American jobs to get visas.
Senator Patrick Leahy wrote the legislation renewing that program for another three years.
"It’s created thousands of jobs in the Northeast Kingdom alone," Leahy said. "But the most important thing is that it didn’t cost the taxpayers one penny."
Not every detail has been hammered out yet, and permits will be needed for all this new construction.
And the other thing that the region needs to provide, Jay Peak’s Bill Stenger reminded his audiences, is a well trained workforce. That, he notes, will take partnerships with local educational institutions as the projects unfold over the next few years.