With $30,000 in seed money, three Woodstock business leaders helped innovate Starting WoodstockA planned competition that will help start a new business.
“The idea is that the closer the company gets to meeting some of the pressing needs within the community, that’s a huge plus,” said Cliff Johnson, one of the organizers and judges for Startup Woodstock.
Johnson moved with his family from Atlanta to Woodstock during the pandemic. Over a decade ago, while working in Portland, Oregon, he founded Vacasa, an international vacation rental management company, which he left in 2018.
Johnson organizes the Woodstock competition with John Spector and Larry Niles, both members of the city’s Economic Development Commission, which focuses on issues such as housing, childcare, and downtown revitalization. The commission provided $10,000 for the competition, and an additional $20,000 came from private donors.
“We really want people to come here,” Niles said. “We will do everything we can to resolve some of these very obvious problems or barriers to opening a business.”
The high rents downtown contribute to barriers, Niles said, along with the perception that Woodstock has a hard-to-beat bureaucracy for potential business owners. While the former may be true, he refuted the latter, saying that nearly all business owners surveyed reported having positive experiences with local government.
Niles also rejects the idea that Woodstock only serves certain clients.
He said, “I always shudder at the thought that we are just a rich city, because we are made up of so many merchants and so many people who have lived here their whole lives.”
With this in mind, Niles and Johnson said Startup Woodstock hopes to find a broad network in recruiting potential applicants for the prize money. People whose ideas may be in a bud are invited to apply. As well as service-based businesses such as electric companies, landscaping and childcare.
“A grant of $30,000 can help someone launch a new childcare business quite easily,” Johnson said.
Competition standards require the company to bridge an unfilled gap in society and hopefully create either wage-earning jobs or a sustainable owner-run business.
Johnson said he hoped, if successful, the competition would “create a culture of entrepreneurship and (allow) people to make their own destiny.”
Johnson imagines this kind of culture could grow in Woodstock. He moved to Vermont to raise his family, enjoying Woodstock’s school system, close-knit community and access to the outdoors. He works remotely, and sees the holiday destination in Windsor County as a magnet for more remote workers like him.
For a town of no more than 3,000 residents, Woodstock allocates significant resources to economic development. Since 2016, the city’s Economic Development Commission has provided more than $1 million in grants to support events, physical infrastructure, marketing, and other initiatives.
This year, the city government established a program pay the angel To convert short-term leases into long-term leases. The program aims to alleviate the town’s housing shortage, which has been made more acute by the village’s attractiveness to tourists. The landlords received $3,000 if they agreed to a one-year lease with the tenant, and $7,000 for a two-year lease.
Johnson acknowledged that “concerns arise when the community gets more vacation rents coming in,” including through Vacasa, adding that short-term rentals may be a “minor contributing factor to housing affordability.”
However, he believes vacation rentals can be a “positive part of most communities” when they are licensed, subject to taxes and follow local regulations.
Although it’s a new idea, Startup Woodstock could grow if it proves successful, according to regulators. Applicants can apply until December 1, at which point the jury to be announced will narrow the field to a pool of finalists by December 15. These finalists will present their ideas in February, and a winner will be chosen shortly thereafter.
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