Meet Our New Executive Director!

An experienced international development professional who more recently has immersed herself in the Upper Valley will be the new Executive Director at the White River Junction-based nonprofit Vital Communities.

Sarah Jackson, of Randolph Center, VT, has decades of experience in nongovernmental organizations and initiatives in diverse places, including Oman, Egypt, Kenya, China, and the Indian subcontinent. Since 2017, she has worked with Montpelier-based Institute for Sustainable Communities, where she has worked with country teams in Bangladesh, China, and India to develop and secure funding for programs that advance climate solutions for cities, factories, and communities. Her career also has included directing projects focused on entrepreneurship, workforce development, agriculture, education, youth leadership, and women’s empowerment. She will officially take on her new role on October 26.

Since moving to Vermont to work for the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), Jackson has complemented her international career with volunteer work dealing with some of the challenges and opportunities of the Upper Valley. Since 2018 she has volunteered for the Randolph Region Re-Energized Program, working on issues including economic development, affordable housing, and childcare. In May she completed Vital Communities’ 10-month Leadership Upper Valley program, which takes participants through a wide-ranging introduction to the region. Other local involvements include serving on the Capital Campaign and Grants Committees of the East Valley Community Group, East Randolph; and Randolph’s Climate Emergency Group. She belongs to the Montpelier-based ElevateHer Professional Networking Platform and Central Vermont Development Professionals Network.

“Fundamentally, the job of Executive Director of one of the Upper Valley’s leading nonprofits is a tough proposition,” said Ron Shaiko, chair of the Vital Communities Board. “The successful candidate needed to show us that he or she has a clear understanding of the full scope of programs Vital Communities leads and the vision that the organization has cultivated so far, and be able to offer us a personal vision that can take us forward. Sarah has the quiet confidence to lead us in those next steps and the deep listening that is required to form lasting partnerships.”

In Oman, for example, where Jackson worked from 2001 to 2017, she created and ran the Oman arm of AMIDEAST, an American non-profit organization engaged in workforce development and education in the Middle East. “The fact that she took an organization from an idea to a staff of 30, in a foreign country, says a lot about her and indicates more than enough experience to lead an Upper Valley NGO,” said Shaiko. “I’m thrilled and so is the rest of the board.”

“I am truly honored and excited to be joining Vital Communities and to work with the talented and dedicated Board and staff to advance its important mission,” said Jackson. “My participation in the Leadership Upper Valley Class of 2020 offered glimpses into the organization throughout the year, highlighting its clear commitment to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of the region, its tight connections with and strong reputation among a wide range of stakeholders, and its deep knowledge about the challenges and opportunities characterizing the Upper Valley. It was exactly the kind of organization that I sought as I envisioned shifting my career focus from international development to local issues, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to engage with the Vital Communities team and with stakeholders throughout the region in shaping the organization’s next chapter.” 

A native of New Hampshire, Jackson grew up in Laconia and Merrimack. She holds a masters degree from Princeton and began her career with NGOs in Kenya and Egypt. She spent six years with the US Embassy in Muscat, Oman, as director of initiatives that included the launch of a women’s leadership program and the first professional women’s networking organization in Oman. She moved on to the Muscat office of AMIDEAST, serving as the Country Director for Oman. There she built the operation from the ground up, establishing a physical field office, recruiting and managing a team of more than 30 employees and trainers, and developing a $2.3 million portfolio of education, entrepreneurship, and workforce development initiatives. 

After serving as the Executive Director of the Oman American Business Center, where she worked with a multicultural board of directors to promote Oman’s economic development, she joined ISC. There she has focused on international climate solutions—a challenge that required her to quickly gain command of environmental sustainability issues. This ability to pivot into new sectors will serve her well in overseeing the range of areas in which Vital Communities works. 

She and husband Robert Jackson (a writer and former high school history teacher) have two children, Daniel, 25, and Nora, 21. Beyond work, her hobbies include hiking, snowshoeing, gardening, cooking, playing the piano, reading, andmore recentlyplaying with their golden retriever puppy.

The Broad Benefits of Buying Local

A study commissioned by Vital Communities finds that, for every dollar they earn, local retailers (like CourierWar of Randolph, above) and restaurants return a share to the local community that’s up to four times as big as that of chain businesses.

“This study really spells out just how important it is to support our local businesses that are rooted in and support our communities, said Nancy LaRowe, director of Vital Communities’ Vital Economy initiative. “Many local businesses are struggling to stay afloat right now. We need to be there for them now by buying locally, so they will be here for us in the future to create stable jobs, enhance community character, and invest in our communities.”

Vital Communities will use this data as the basis for “buy local” education and campaigns, and as a baseline measure as we work to increase local control and investment in the Upper Valley with projects to increase community resilience.

This is in addition to ongoing ways Vital Communities supports the local economy, including marketing technical support; community crowdfunding; encouraging business networking, collaboration, and resource sharing; and innovative projects like Upper Valley Everyone Eats.

Read the full report   

The study was conducted by Civic Economics, a renowned consultant group that has done similar “Indie Impact” studies in other regions of northern New England, as well as for Austin, Chicago, San Francisco, Phoenix, Grand Rapids, and New Orleans. Civic Economics has offices in Chicago and Tulsa, OK. The study was funded through a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Development Grant.

To aid the study, Vital Communities collected surveys from 20 independent, locally owned retailers and restaurants in Upper Valley communities on both sides of the Connecticut River. Each business was asked to answer detailed questions about its business practices. The survey questions focused on how much of each business’s revenue recirculates in the regional economy through profits paid out to local owners; wages paid to local workers; goods and services used by the business; local goods resold by the business; and charitable giving within the community.  

Collectively, the 20 retailers and restaurants return a total of 55.5% and 68.4% of their revenues, respectively, to the local economy. By comparison, Civic Economics found that four major national retail chain stores (Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Office Depot, and Target) recirculate only an average of 13.6% of all revenue within the local markets that host its stores, while three major national restaurant chains (Brinker International, which owns Chili’s and others; Darden, which owns Olive Garden and others; and McDonald’s) return an average of 30.4% of all revenue to the local economy. Civic Economics derived those percentages by aggregating data made public in annual reports.

This means that local retailers were found to return to the local economy a percentage of their revenue that’s more than four times higher than that of the chain retailers, while local restaurants return a percentage that’s more than two times higher than that of chains.  

With the mammoth online retailer Amazon and its Whole Foods grocery chain, the outcomes are even more dramatic. Civic Economics estimates that the region generated more than $165 million of sales in 2019 for Amazon; as there are no Amazon warehouses or Whole Foods outlets in the region, virtually all  $165 million dollars left the Upper Valley instead of being reinvested in our people, communities, and economy.

The pandemic ratcheted up the “Amazon Effect,” LaRowe said. “Online retail sales increased more than $100 billion due to the pandemic at the expense of our local businesses and our communities. It’s more critical than ever to have data that shows how that trend is truly hurting our local economy. Each time we buy local, we are making a choice to invest in our community, instead of sending our dollars to remote entities.”

A Closer Look

Of the 55.5% of revenues that local retailers recirculate in the local economy, 28.2 percent is in profit and wages, 17.9 percent for local items for resale, 5.3 percent for local goods and services used by the business, and 4.1 percent is charitable giving. Of the 68.4 percent that local restaurants recirculate in the local economy, 40.7 percent is profit and labor, 13.8 percent is for local items for resale, 10.8 percent is for goods and services used by the business, and 3.1 percent is charitable giving.   

Analyzed by the square footage of the businesses footprints, chain employee 12.1 people per square foot while “indys” employ 16.1; and chains keep $199 local per square foot while indys keep $489.

Broken down by state, the study found the Vermont retailers return 56.3% of their revenue to the local economy and New Hampshire retailers return 51.0%; and the Vermont restaurants return 66.5% while those New Hampshire return 69.7%.

Participating Upper Valley Businesses

Claremont Spice & Dry Goods
Co-op Food Stores
CourierWare, Inc
Dan & Whit’s General Store
Enfield House of Pizza
King Arthur Baking Company
Kit ‘N Kaboodle Thrift
Left Bank Books
Long River Gallery
Peyton Place Restaurant at The Historic Mann Tavern
Cloudland Farm, LLC
Piecemeal Pies
Poor Thom’s Tavern
Post Pond Lodge LLC
Prince and the Pauper Restaurant
Revolution
Taverne on the Square, LLC
Time-Out Americana Grill
Trail Break Taps + Tacos
Valley Floors

This project was funded by a USDA Vermont Rural Development Rural Business Development Grant.

 

 

Upper Valley Everyone Eats

We are launching Upper Valley Everyone Eats! Between September 8 and December 18, approximately 2,500 meals from local restaurants will be available weekly across the Upper Valley’s Vermont community meal programs and food pantries. These nutritionally balanced meals, made in part with ingredients from local farms and food businesses, are being  offered through a new Vermont state program which pays hard-hit Vermont restaurants $10 per meal to create nutritious meals for Vermont residents in need of food assistance at this difficult time. Get the details!

2CLA Graduate Spotlight: Climate Change Hike at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP

 

The Climate Change Leadership Academy Class (2CLA) of 2020 graduated in May amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We would like to highlight the inspiring climate leaders who attended the leadership academy meetings. In addition, we want to share the projects that leaders designed and plan to launch in order to take meaningful action on climate change mitigation and adaptation in the Upper Valley. Read the first profile, of Tunbridge, VT, artist Cecily Anderson and her Climate Farmer Project.

The next 2CLA graduate we would like to spotlight is Leah Marshall. When asked about her favorite part of 2CLA, Leah mentioned how much she appreciated the first session where participants learned about ways climate change is impacting the Upper Valley, as well as ways to communicate climate science clearly.

For her climate action project, Leah recognized the opportunity to integrate her project with her position working as the Natural Resource Intern at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. Marsh-Billing-Rockefeller NHP practices adaptive management using ecologically-minded forestry techniques, it is the only National Historical Park that is actively forested. She wanted to tie in the audience at the Park, which includes local Upper Valley residents and visitors or tourists who come to explore Marsh-Billing-Rockefeller NHP. Park visitors are an ideal audience so Leah decided to create a guided hike that explores climate change at the Park. Another goal of Leah’s was to encourage visitors to adventure out on the beautiful carriage roads and trails in Marsh-Billing-Rockefeller NHP.

Leah researched and wrote about how climate change is projected to impact forest diversity and resilience. She believes it is important to highlight forest vulnerability because sometimes the impacts of climate change are not so evident. Indeed, there are no glaciers in the Upper Valley melting. Leah said, “People don’t necessarily think about the whole ecosystem impacts of climate change.” She set out to share specific examples of how climate change has impacted forest health, specifically in Marsh-Billing-Rockefeller NHP forests. For example, the range of the white oaks may shift because changing conditions are less favorable as well as sugar maple which then impact animal habitat, food sources, and local economies.

In addition to her research about forest health, Leah interviewed the superintendent of the Marsh-Billing-Rockefeller NHP to gain more information. The booklet she designed is similar to a junior ranger booklet that includes a hiking map and readings for each of the stops. There are 10 stops along the route. Leah planned the Climate Change Hike to be a self-guided experience, so her project was not dramatically changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The hike is designed for a junior ranger education level and can be done while socially distancing, but all are welcome to take part in the self-guided climate change hike. Booklets are available in the map boxes in the front of the Carriage Barn Visitor Center.

Leah is now pursuing a graduate degree at Northern Arizona University studying environmental science and conducting paleoclimate research.