Stowe Reporter
August 1, 2013

If investment is a decent economic measure, which of course it is, there’s big confidence in the local economy. Most of the biggest players around here are spending millions on their businesses. The town of Stowe is matching that, and a slew of smaller entrepreneurs are following suit.

And let’s not forget the $124 million that the state government will be pouring into nearby Waterbury over the next few years to modernize state offices there.

Summer started out wet, but the weather hasn’t dampened the flow of visitors to the area this season, which anecdotally has been among the busiest in memory.

Some of that likely has to do with the Stowe Area Association’s huge investment in advertising in the Boston area: a television commercial (http://bit.ly/13zckWc) that airs during Red Sox games on the New England Sports Network; a short spot that airs on video monitors at the Park Street Metro station; and ads on the sides of buses. The association, a marketing cooperative of area businesses, won’t disclose publicly what it spent on the broader marketing effort, but it must be in the hundreds of thousands. Whatever the amount, that kind of marketing effort is unique for a community this size, just one sign of optimism in Stowe’s economy.

There are others. In fact, by our estimates, Stowe is in the midst of a $52 million investment spree in resort upgrades, snowmaking, a large commercial brewery and an ice rink.

Stowe Mountain Resort is spending $3.4 million on snowmaking this summer alone. That, on the heels of $4.7 million on snowmaking last summer, and hundreds of millions on its resort expansion over the past decade.

“No other resort in the East is investing this much in snowmaking,” resort spokesman Jeff Wise said this week.

The investments — 545 snowguns, 23 fan guns, 150 land guns and almost a dozen miles of pipe purchased and installed over the past 18 months — make sense both from expense and revenue perspectives. Last summer’s $4.7 million investment in efficient snowmaking eliminated some 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel storage, use and emissions per year, Wise said, even as the company was able to make more and better snow.

“The immediate return (on investment) is better snow conditions,” said Wise. “But in addition to the long-term sustainability for the resort, there’s a huge energy efficiency component.”

Across the valley, the Trapp Family Lodge also is spending millions. A 40,000-square-foot building to house a brewery and a 150-seat restaurant is rising on the flanks of Trapp Hill. The brewery will have a whopping production capacity of 1.5 million gallons a year, a hefty step up from the current 62,000-gallon-a-year facility. Precisely how much the brewery-restaurant will cost has not been disclosed; the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the family company is raising $22 million toward the project.

Again, not far away, Topnotch Resort and Spa recently unveiled its huge renovation, at a reported cost of $15 million: a new entrance, reception area, a new bar, terrace, gardens, parking, and upgrades everywhere. It’s impossible to adequately describe; go up there and check it out. The owners, MetWest Terra Hospitality and the local general manager, Aaron Black, are keen to show it off.

Near the base of the Mountain Road, the town of Stowe is building a new ice arena. At $6.5 million, it should be a stunner, the best of its kind.

All around this area, at a time in America when entrepreneurs and businesses are in cautious mode if not cutting back, there are signs of investment and calculated economic risk-taking: the soaring success of local booze and brewing, including the craze over the Alchemist’s Heady Topper beer and the new Lost Nation brewery opening in Morrisville; two new Asian restaurants and a brew pub, The Vermont Ale House, opening on the Mountain Road; the Burlington jewelry store Von Bargen’s opening on Main Street, among other highlights.

These private initiatives and the major moves by some of the area’s largest local economic players are happening independently of one another. But collectively they offer a powerful sign. It says the local economy is growing. And with that comes more jobs and more vibrant community life.

Now, if only the state of Vermont would take note, and find ways to boost its own investment in luring investment and visitors to the state.

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