Community leaders, business owners, and local residents have worked strategically and intentionally to bring the St. Albans downtown back to life. When I arrived 9.5 years ago, I actually was a little worried what I was getting into with many buildings and storefronts tired and empty. The transformation that has taken place since then has been nothing less than remarkable. The positive energy to continues ignite new possibilities.
I am so pleased that Northwestern Medical Center is an integral part of the partnership for the next major step forward. The Congress & Main development enables NMC to work with Vermont Tech and Community College of Vermont to bring a nursing program and wellness resources right into downtown St. Albans. We were organizations that co-existed; now we are interlinked in designing a community anchor around health and education. This is powerful. For NMC and other healthcare providers in our community, this means a local pipeline of well-trained future employees in the face of shortages in nursing and other professions. That reduces recruitment costs, which pulls avoidable costs out of healthcare bills – and that is a win for everyone. For students coming out of local high schools and adults looking for career changes, this will be a wonderful path to good paying jobs and strong careers without ever having to leave their community. For area businesses, this means more people shopping and dining and accessing services. That puts more money into our local economy, which is good for all of us. The positivity emanating from a vibrant downtown is infectious, and the proof is evident in what is happening here.
Now think of having wellness and health coaching services and a demonstration kitchen right in the heart of downtown, available to both the students at Congress & Main as well as the broader community. We envision classes on healthy food choices and actual cooking instruction, which should increase the use of fresh, local, healthy produce which will help our local markets, food shelf, and farmers. Plus, people who feel better and have more energy from healthy choices are likely to be more active and involved in all aspects of the community. Longer term, embracing a healthier lifestyle helps prevent chronic medical conditions which in turn lowers healthcare costs and helps the economy. That investment has great rewards.
Ultimately, a thriving downtown helps energize not only its own municipality, but its entire region. St. Albans is not alone in working towards a healthier future. I see wonderful progress in Swanton with their rejuvenation projects, the efforts of the Enosburg Business Association, a thriving arts scene in Montgomery, and more exciting initiatives across our region. All of this combines to help attract employers who want to be part of the vibrancy of northwestern Vermont. This, in turn, strengthens our schools and expands retail, entertainment, and recreational opportunities, making our region an even more attractive place to live. For NMC and other employers working to recruit and retain specially-trained professionals in highly competitive job markets, a community focused on a healthy environment and education serves as the perfect magnet to attract and keep our workforce, which is our most valuable asset.
There are many challenges on the way to a revitalized downtown, which includes transitioning a community culture to one of total wellbeing. We are fortunate to be a community that can see through the obstacles and turn “catalyst conversations” into reality. I am so fortunate to have found myself in a community of visionaries focused on the greater good.
No one has to guess where or what St. Albans is anymore. My groundbreaking shovel is ready.
— Jill Berry Bowen, RN, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer