Vernon Economic Development event highlights successes, past and future

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Oct. 11, 2013
1st Alliance CEO John Dilorio spoke about his company's plans to build its new headquarters in downtown Rockville. Photos by Steve Smith.
1st Alliance CEO John Dilorio spoke about his company's plans to build its new headquarters in downtown Rockville. Photos by Steve Smith.

About 60 business leaders gathered with town officials at the Vernon Economic Development Commission's breakfast event at Town Hall on Oct. 9. Networking over a breakfast catered by the Vernon Board of Education's Food and Nutrition Services was followed by an update on development in the town.

“Branding is something we've been focusing on a lot here in town, recently,” said EDC Director Shaun Gately. “Currently, our message is 'Vernon is on the move.' Vernon is a very active community. We're not sitting back waiting for opportunities to appear. We're out pursuing them. We want to talk to you about your next venture. We want to see how we can make the obstacles that are in front of your success disappear.”

Gately added that the town is also making broad efforts to make it easier for all businesses in town to be successful.

Updates on projects in town included the three mill-renovation projects, which are all funded, but waiting for closings to take place before beginning construction. Several other businesses have also recently renovated, including Olender's Body Shop and the 99 Restaurant.

“There's a lot going on in Vernon,” said Mayor George Apel. “In my two years of being here, there have been 40-plus ribbon-cuttings, dedications or ground-breakings. I think there's a great spirit going on right now. In the future, Vernon's going to be a town people want to come to, and I don't think that's very far away.”

Apel said that he also agreed that the businesses need the government to support them, and sometimes that is by doing very little. “I think the biggest thing government can do sometimes is get the hell out of the way,” he said.

John Dilorio – CEO of 1st Alliance - spoke about the large development proposed for downtown Rockville, which includes the campus that will house 1st Alliance's headquarters and be the home of 1,100 jobs. Dilorio said 1st Alliance is still actively pursuing Rockville as the place for the project.

“It's our first choice, without question,” he said. When asked "Why Rockville?" Dilorio said he grew up in New England (Deerfield, Mass.) and moved to Connecticut during grad school. The company was founded in Connecticut, he said, and he understands the history of mill towns and the communities that were built around that.

“I have a connection to that,” he said. “That's what lies behind the philosophy. With that comes a tremendous responsibility.”

Diliorio said that he feels business leaders have changed their focus from community value and employee value, to that of share-holder value, which has created an exodus of jobs from the country, and that his company's aim is to re-focus that emphasis. “We think that we will show that if you put 1,100 jobs back in a downtown, you will see that downtown will again thrive,” he said.

While some of the property acquisition has been challenging, there has been progress, including some contracts already in place. There is currently some question as to whether the entire project will be on the site (the southern side of East Main Street) or possibly a “split campus,” with part of the complex at another location in town. Engineering studies are also beginning, and Dilorio said demolition and construction could begin as early as the second quarter of 2014.

One of the next things to do will be to formulate a team between the town of Vernon and 1st Alliance, to define what everyone's role will be. “The town, without exception, has been extremely engaged and cooperative in trying to help us bring this to fruition,” Dilorio said.

Also speaking at the event was Janet Gemetti from Capital Workforce Partners, who spoke about the state's new Step Up programs for small businesses who make new hires. Employers who hire unemployed workers may be eligible (if meeting certain criteria) to get part of that employee's new salary back in a subsidy from the state.

“We're trying to not only help small businesses with a wage reimbursement,” she said, “but also to help individuals who have not been working.” For the first month of employment, the state will pay 100 percent of the employee's salary, and a smaller amount through the next five months, averaging to 62.5 percent for the entire six months.

After the event, Gately said the sense he got from businesses was that the information from Dilorio was especially helpful, because a lot of the business community may not have been aware of it. He also said the event was part of the Development Commission's efforts to get more local businesses and individuals involved in the discussion of Vernon's development.

“The businesspeople were there for the update and networking, and to find out what's going on in town,” he said. Gately said the event is part of the Development Commission's series of programs that invite the public to recognize businesses and retain them in Vernon.

“It's getting out there to find out what's important to people, and helping them feel like they are part of our community, which they are, but it's just reinforcing that,” Gately said.

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