New program aims to give struggling Vt. communities a business boost

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VERGENNES, Vt. (WCAX) "This used to be a sleepy little town with not a great reputation," Jeannie Pelsue said.

Pelsue manages Sweet Charity on Main Street in Vergennes. She says the small Addison County city used to be a much different place.

"You could stop at the traffic light and want to lock your doors," she said.

But not anymore.

"Now, this is a destination," Pelsue said. "We've got fabulous stores and people come from all over."

Now, city leaders are looking toward the future.

"We have come a long ways," Mayor Renny Perry said.

Perry says the city experienced a renaissance and is now considered an "opportunity zone" by the federal government. It joins 16 other Vermont communities that were selected based on based on poverty, employment, population and several other factors.

"We're always looking for additional businesses or expanding the businesses we already have," Perry said.

Perry says the program gives tax incentives to investors who put their money into companies or businesses within an opportunity zone, like Vergennes.

"We think that this is one of the tools in the toolbox to help attract businesses into Vergennes," Perry said.

Within those 17 opportunity zone communities are more than 85,000 Vermonters and more than 7,000 businesses.

The city has already come a long way, but at Sweet Charity, Pelsue says she is eager to see what's to come.

"The more the merrier," she said.

More details on the program should be coming soon from the federal government and the first investments should be made by next year.