Strength in numbers

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A few weeks ago, Linda Benway, the president of The Shires of Vermont Regional Marketing Organization, addressed the Manchester Select Board about her group's mission to The New York Times Travel Show, and about what the group has been doing lately.

Last year, the Select Board approved in excess of $2,000 for the town's share of the booth fee so that representatives from Manchester could travel to New York and make sure the travel business and its patrons don't forget about what our town has to offer.

As Benway explained, some passers-by, despite ambling through a section of the convention hall dedicated to Vermont, said "Oh, Manchester by the Sea," confusing this town with its coastal namesake in Massachusetts.

Aside from demonstrating that some grown-ups could use a refresher in geography, that slip of the tongue is a reminder that potential customers can be fickle — and that branding and messaging are important.

The discussion continued, and it turned to the need for regional tourism marketing, such as what The Shires RMO provides, and for locally-focused tourism and business marketing promotion, along the lines of what the Manchester Business Association is pursuing.

So should it be one or the other?

Why not both?

Benway, who is also a co-owner of a Manchester business (the Casablanca Hotel), sees economic benefit in the MBA moving ahead with its mission and working with other regional groups, such as the Bennington Chamber of Commerce.

Those regional efforts are not meant to exclude or elbow out local initiatives, Benway said. "I want to be very clear about that. We can work together."

The stakes may be getting higher.

At the MBA's recent meeting, president Paul Carroccio noted that he's been seeing an uptick in the number of empty storefronts in town. He's not the only one who's noticed, and it doesn't take many "for rent" signs to generate anxiety.

We know Manchester is not immune to the difficulties that have been pummeling the retail business across the country.

But Manchester is no been-there, done-that prefab outlet village adrift in an ocean of empty parking spaces. It has so much more going for it — shopping, hotels, restaurants, the great outdoors, the arts, golf, skiing, a promising independent television festival, established summer, fall and winter traditions, and great schools.

Nor is Manchester an island unto itself in southern Vermont. Its neighbors have a lot to offer as well, from theater and the arts to outdoor sports.

There's strength in numbers.

The more ways Manchester reaches out to visitors, potential residents and potential business owners about why they need to be here, the better its chances of riding out whatever storm might be approaching — and putting heads in beds and filling those storefronts. Yes, Manchester needs to promote itself and take care of its own interests, but it can only benefit from inclusive strategic partnerships with its neighbors. It would be a mistake to pass on those initiatives just because they aren't Manchester-specific.

After all: When visitors to our region drive north on Historic Route 7A, now or any time of the year, they're greeted with a feast for the eyes. They marvel at our noble mountains covered in lush greenery in the summer, fiery reds and golds in fall and breathtaking frost in the winter. They see rays of sunshine piercing the low fog hanging over farmers' fields and the Battenkill River. They're tempted by maple syrup in the spring and fresh cider donuts in the fall.

They don't see an invisible dotted line separating the north and south Shires.


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