- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) - An economic development task force says Vermont’s southern counties need “urgent action” to reverse an economic downturn.

The Brattleboro Reformer reports (http://bit.ly/1ObTewX ) that a study completed by the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone task force found that tourism has not recovered from pre-recession levels, construction is half what it was in 2006 and the under-18 population in both Windham and Bennington counties declined by 20 percent between 2000 and 2013.

The report, released Thursday, says there is a shortage of quality year-round housing - with a third of homes being built before 1940.

The task force members stressed the two counties and their 44 cities and town must collaborate to turn around the economy. They say there is no comprehensive plan in place for workforce development and that many younger workers lack critical skills.

“Southern Vermont is in trouble,” the report states. “In essence, we need to repopulate southern Vermont.”

The task force recommends creating a broadband Internet financing plan, fostering growth of existing businesses and the arts community and developing a marketing strategy to attract businesses and workers.

“Without a comprehensive marketing and recruiting strategy, our area is too often viewed as depressed, with few job opportunities, limited growth potential, and ‘not much to do’ for families, professionals, and young people,” according to the report.

A marketing campaign, “Become a Vermonter - for a weekend - for life,” stalled due to lack of funding, and task force members recommend that the marketing project be funded at a minimum of $250,000 per year.

The report, funded by an economic development bill passed by the legislature earlier this year, will be sent to the Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and house and senate committees.

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