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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Newport, Vt.) - Developers in Newport, Vt. and its surroundings promise $600 million in mostly foreign investments will fund new businesses, expansions to area resorts, and infrastructure improvements over the next few years. The Northeast Kingdom Economic Development Initiative is predicted to create some 10,000 jobs directly and indirectly in a region long called Vermont's toughest place to find work.
The owners of the Jay Peak Resort said Thursday they have been aggressively pursuing money for several projects across the Northeast Kingdom they announced last year. Investors who put up money that supports job creation in rural regions with high unemployment get a step closer to conditional permanent residency through the federal EB-5 program. Jay Peak president Bill Stenger said significant capital has already been raised through EB-5 for many of the projects in the initiative. He said he and other backers of the project are on-track to attract the other funds.
Todd Bachelder is the CEO of an energy-efficient window company, Menck Windows USA, that will retrofitting an old skiwear factory this summer to start manufacturing early next year.
"When you look at window manufacturers, by and large, they tend to be across the northern part of this country," Bachelder said. "It may be because, in part, they're very much focused on the weather and the outside and keeping the outside out."
A biotech firm, AnC Bio Vermont, told New England Cable News it is opening in late 2014. Fully outfitted for about $220-million, the center will do research and manufacture artificial organs and medical devices. NECN asked if AnC worries that high-level scientists may prefer to work in major cities like Boston or Montreal rather than the rural Northeast Kingdom. "Not all of them," said Dr. Ike Lee, AnC Bio's CEO.
Lee said he has already gotten applications from people who could work in just about any city in the world, but noted that his competitive wages and Vermont's laid-back lifestyle may just be his best recruitment tools.
"When they live in relaxed conditions, they can come up with great ideas," Lee said.
"If opportunities are there, people relocate," said Mathew Barewicz of the Vt. Labor Dept. "If we can continue to create opportunities in the form of jobs, employment, housing, and education, people will find us."
Stenger and his Jay Peak partner, Ari Quiros, said the Northeast Kingdom Economic Development Initiative got a huge boost with a federal designation for the Newport area as a Free Trade Zone. That, Quiros explained, basically means that raw goods can be imported without tax, with those fees not assessed until finished products are shipped to buyers.
"We'll be bringing in a lot of parts and a lot of technology from other parts of the world that we do not have to pay duty on," Quiros said. "And that's a big savings."
Quiros and Stenger said the other big lynchpins for the project are all on track, including a lakefront hotel and conference center, hotels and a new lodge at Burke Mountain, improvements to the Newport Airport, and a block redevelopment in Newport. Construction on all aspects of the initiative should be totally complete by the end of 2015, Stenger and Quiros said.