FAIRFAX – The Town of Fairfax and the Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation were two of several awardees of federal Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) grants announced Friday morning during a ceremony held at Runamok Maple’s new facility in Fairfax.
Fairfax, which hosted the event, was awarded $263,055 for the extension of municipal and wastewater infrastructure to the Runamok Maple facility, formerly a Scrabble Tile factory and woodworking facility now being converted into Runamok’s new home.
Another $219,213 was awarded to the FCIDC to develop a building in the St. Albans Industrial Park that will then be leased to Glavel, a startup company using recycled glass to make alternatives to insulation.
Glavel is slated to create more than a dozen new jobs in the St. Albans area.
The final Franklin County name accepting an award was the Northwest Vermont Rail Trail Council, which received $59,187 to draft a marketing plan for the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, the 26-mile trail cutting across the northern half of Franklin County.
The NBRC annually awards grants to communities and businesses across the northern bounds of New England. While 14 awards were presented to organizations and communities in Vermont, grants will also be awarded to groups in the northernmost counties of New York, New Hampshire and Maine.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D – Vt.), Rep. Peter Welch (D – Vt.) and Gov. Phil Scott were present during the award ceremony, each official speaking to the importance of the grants in supporting Vermont’s economy as well as the character of the rural communities supported by NBRC grants.
Scott, who also serves as the state’s co-chair on the NBRC, led the ceremony by thanking the NBRC for their awards in Vermont. He estimated that some $7.8 million was awarded in total, with $2.8 million in particular watermarked for Vermont projects.
“This year, we had the most applicants,” Scott announced before extending his thanks to Runamok Maple in particular. The maple company, originally based out of Cambridge, was expected to bring 100 new jobs to the Fairfax area with the opening of its new facility.
“This is an example of what we can do when we work together,” Scott said. “You’re marketing one of our most famous commodities we have here in Vermont, and we’re very proud of that.”
He also extended his gratitude to Leahy and Welch, thanking them for continuing to push for the NBRC to expand. Despite having its funding struck in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year, the NBRC was eventually funded and, thanks to an amendment cosponsored by Leahy, is slated for five years of funding in the next Farm Bill.
Scott also wanted to ground the day’s conversation by highlighting the projects receiving grants that day and the benefits those could have for their respective community, including safer bike paths and new educational opportunities in the Northeast Kingdom and financial support for small downtowns.
“It’s also important to remember the human stories these investments help,” Scott said. “These people are behind why these public investments really do matter.”
Leahy, who briefly mourned the loss of a Scrabble factory, wanted to highlight the bipartisan nature of the NBRC, which was formed with bipartisan support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
“We wanted to call upon our common connections to… boost local economies, and keep jobs in the local economies,” Leahy continued. “It’s too often that the very real needs of rural America and rural communities go unaddressed by the federal government.”
Leahy recalled that he often finds himself having to explain to his counterparts in Washington what makes those Vermont communities special.
“I think what makes us stand apart… is that we have our sense of place,” he said. “When we come home on weekends and walk into a grocery store, it seems we know just about everybody, and how good it feels because you hear what’s going on.”
Leahy reaffirmed his commitment to both funding and ultimately expanding the NBRC and closed his address by thanking both Scott and Welch for also supporting the commission. Welch returned the thanks when he took the podium, stating, “This program would have died many deaths without you.”
“When I first got to Congress in 2007, that’s when the idea of this commission came up,” Welch said. “What brought us together… was a common experience that rural parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upper New York state shared: lower wages, lower incomes and really good people.”
Welch defended the NBRC further, praising the communities and organizations receiving awards for being able to make significant impacts with what, in Welch’s eyes, really wasn’t a significant sum of money.
“Year after year there have been projects that get a little bit of money and create a whole lot of good,” Welch continued. “This is about a community rising up to do something for itself – taking very little and accomplishing a lot.
“I have great confidence that really good things are going to come out of your records.”
While Sen. Bernie Sanders (I – Vt.) had a scheduling conflict in southern Vermont that kept him from Friday’s ceremony, a representative from Sanders’s office also spoke in favor of the impact NBRC funding could have on the awardees’ communities.
Deputy Secretary of Commerce Ted Brady and NBRC Program Director Christine Frost presented the grants once addresses were wrapping up. They led with Fairfax and Runamok Maple, the ceremony’s hosts, inviting Fairfax town manager Brad Docheff and Runamok owners Eric and Laura Sorkin up for the first grant.
“Just so you know,” Brady said, stealing the microphone back once the award was presented. “I had a conversation with the Economic Development Administration last night… and the representative from the EDA said Brad was one of the most talented and competent officials they’ve ever worked with.”
“Those weren’t my words,” Docheff clarified for the Messenger before explaining why the grant was so important for the small town. “We’re going to see new jobs here in Fairfax… and it’s going to benefit so many partners throughout the maple industry.
“This allows us to do some of the work we want to do. In the town office, we’ve got a lot of ideas and plans, but our limitation is capacity – we’re a small community and a rural community.”
Runamok’s Eric Sorkin maybe summarized it best, though, when he took the podium from Brady earlier during the ceremony to say his own thanks to the NBRC and to Fairfax.
“I guess I had my head down doing all the construction work, so this is a little unexpected,” Sorkin said. “I guess I’ll start with ‘We’re hiring.’”
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