Springfield works to reinvent itself as hub for tech jobs

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) Springfield, Vermont, used to be known as the machine tool capital of the world. But as manufacturing jobs moved overseas, the region saw a decline. Now, the town is working to reinvent itself, not with handmade tools but instead with high-speed internet.

"I think people are starting to really recognize the positive momentum that is developing," said Caitlin Christiana of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

And that momentum got another shot in the arm this week with the announcement of a $724,000 federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. It comes just a few months after the official launch of Springfield's Black River Innovation Campus or BRIC, which is focused on attracting tech-savvy people to live and work in the area. BRIC is in the process of hiring 24 software developers who will work in town for out-of-state companies. A state-of-the-art entrepreneurship center is also in the works.

"Being able to pull upon the history of this community but move it in a forward direction into the future is going to be the key to us making it work for everybody," Christiana said.

People like Ben Hills. His coffee roasting company on Main Street opened a couple weeks ago.

"Craft coffee was where craft beer was 10 years ago," Hills said.

Old rundown mills across the river are visible from his store window but Hills says the vision for the future, based on innovation and entrepreneurship, is something he wanted to be a part of. A 10-gigabit fiber optic cable running through town is an added perk.

"To move to Springfield and be in a rural city environment but to have that high-speed internet has been great," Hills said. "That also helps me in my day job. I'm a consultant in my day job and if I didn't have internet, I would be able to live here."

Just up the river, the rundown factories have been reborn. The Trout River Brewing Company moved into its space a couple years ago. Their tasting room opening in February. The owners grew up here.

"You know, when I landed back here it was important to me to try to create an environment that is going to attract people to come to our community," said Kelen Beardsley of Trout River Brewing Company.

And building a workforce is something this community, like many other rural regions, continues to struggle with.

"Step one, you have to have things for people to do in the community in order for them to want to move here," Beardsley said.

As more businesses move into these mills, officials say what used to be Precision Valley could become the Silicon Valley of the region.