City's new push to lure business with Burlington Telecom - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

City's new push to lure business with Burlington Telecom

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

At a press conference Tuesday, Burlington city leaders and nonprofit tech spokespeople announced a new partnership. The group, US Ignite, connects software developers with cities that offer the online speed and programming talent to race toward the digital horizon.

"We're a little bit like in the early 90s when the internet first came out and we're looking for explorers to come up with the next email, the next browser, the next file transfer system; that's the level of transformational change we're talking about," said William Wallace of US Ignite.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says the goal is to use the city's super-fast internet connection to draw the next wave of digital innovators who will require incredible speed to run programs.

Nearly a decade ago, when the publicly-owned Burlington Telecom first opened in 2003, leaders promised it would bring business.

"I don't think you can say that Burlington Telecom is achieving everything it hoped when it was first setup," said Weinberger, D-Burlington.

Companies like Dealer.com moved in, but the mayor and BT's interim manager, John Barraclough, say the draw should be stronger. Barraclough arrived three years ago when a poor economy and poor management left the telecom unable to pay back loans from CitiBank or the city's general fund.

"We made some very hard calls, very quickly in terms of what was spent on what and we made some very hard calls on relevant skill sets," Barraclough said.

The company slashed nearly half its positions and now brings in more money than it spends. The budget controversy caused BT to lose many customers, but numbers are back near its peak of 4,600. The $50 million debt still hangs over the company. CitiBank is entitled to tear out the guts of the system-- all of BTs infrastructure-- if it wins its trial scheduled for February.

Former City Councilor Andy Montroll says despite the telecom's problems, it's still a smart investment.

"If you look at it as an economic development tool for the city, there are a number of businesses that are here because of Burlington Telecom," Montroll said.

The mayor and others say the system can still deliver as promised if they continue to ride technology's wave and they can't let the legal challenge hold them back anymore. But a win for Citibank in court could sink their plans.

Ignite can provide some funding through competitions and corporate sponsors, but is essentially a facilitator connecting people with places and shared workspaces for collaboration.

Burlington is set to write a plan detailing just how many businesses they hope to attract and how, but that's not due until next summer. In the meantime you can visit Burlington's ignite site -- btvignite.com

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