A year ago, Shelburne decided to hire an economic development consultant. Last week, that expert told the selectboard the town’s most important priorities should be to simplify the project review process and modify zoning regulations inhibiting economic growth.
“The process itself is causing you folks to lose opportunities you’re not even seeing because people won’t come to get through the process,” David Leckey of Leckey Consulting told the board. “You don’t know if you’re willing to turn them down or not because you don’t get a chance to see them.”
While Shelburne has a lot of smart, passionate people engaged in the community, Leckey said few are engaged in economic development.
“You have a terrific opportunity to really leverage the intellectual firepower and the connections that exist in this community,” said Leckey, who conducted hundreds of conversations with Shelburne residents for his study.
Leckey recommended Shelburne work on its basic economic development infrastructure, and to proactively and cooperatively take advantage of what the town already has, not look for new attractions.
Leckey said almost everyone he talked to for the study believes tourism is an appropriate and low-impact opportunity the town should better leverage.
To Shelburne Historical Society president Dorothea Penar’s concerns that development might diminish the historic value of Shelburne village, Leckey said, “Simplifying the process doesn’t mean giving up the design review.”
Nor does it mean giving up the community’s character and the strength of its historic assets, he said.
Many in Shelburne told Leckey that development in Shelburne is rarely approached as an opportunity but through a prism of fear of what might go wrong, he said.
Leckey said Shelburne needs to pursue downtown designation, an idea supported by most people Leckey and his team surveyed.
Since 1999, over 20 towns have taken advantage of the designated downtown program, which helps “communities with financial incentives, training and technical assistance supporting local efforts to restore historic buildings, improve housing, design walkable communities and encourage economic development by incentivizing public and private investments,” according to Vermont’s agency of commerce and community development.
Arnett & Muldrow performed an economic development market analysis in Shelburne as part of the study. Tripp Muldrow reported that unlike the rest of Vermont, Shelburne is expected to grow by about 3 percent over the next five years in the commercial areas of town.
The town’s housing value is “stratospheric,” he said. The median home value is $450,000, about $200,000 more than the state’s median home value, Muldrow said.
Shelburne’s retail market sells $122 million more than consumers within a 10-minute drive time are buying, meaning it is a “gain market.” When local consumers buy more than local retailers and restaurants sell it’s a “leaking market.”
In other words, Shelburne’s economy benefits from sales to visitors. Muldrow’s study only identified sales to people outside a 10-mile driving range of the center of town. It would take another study, he said, to determine how many sales are to people from far enough away to be considered tourists.
Although 20-25 percent of Shelburne’s economy would be unsustainable without sales to visitors, Muldrow said, “You’re not like a Stowe where we’re looking at 50-60 percent of the retail sustained by those outside.”
Some of the markets that are leaking and therefore present opportunities include home furnishings; specialty personal care — bath, health/supplements, cosmetics and optical; gasoline and convenience stores; specialty and high-quality clothing; general merchandise such as Dollar General, which he hastened to clarify he wasn’t recommending; limited-service restaurants, but not fast food; and specialty foods such as meat, fish and seafood, and vegetable markets.
The findings about specialty food “affirm what you’re doing with the farmers market,” he said.
Muldrow added that he’s seeing an increasing number of hybrid markets where food is sold to be taken home or taprooms that also sell sushi or pizza.
“There are really cool opportunities for Shelburne,” he said.
The town has a dynamic commuting pattern with almost 3,000 people leaving town for work every day and about 2,600 coming to town for work, meaning only 445 people live and work in Shelburne.
“You have a really great trail network,” Muldrow said. “Taking advantage of that and having the trails connect to commercial areas is always a key opportunity.”