Three months into the job, Gateway Hilltowns Economic Development Director Jeanne LeClair sees her role as a funnel for all of the activities, events and opportunities in the Gateway hilltowns, all of which end up on her website at gatewayhilltowns.org.
“My actual goal is to shore up what’s already happening. There are a lot of cool things happening,” LeClair said.
One of the ways she is helping is to get local businesses visible online. “Everyone has been able to identify at least one thing I can do for them individually,” said LeClair. She said common requests for assistance include design help and website help.
To that end, she will be teaching two free Southern Hilltowns Adult Education classes, “Design for Business” on October 11 and “Simple Website Building for Small Business” on November 8, both in the SHAEC classroom (Room 152) at Gateway Regional from 6 to 8 p.m.
“One of the main problems is that they’re not visible online. My goal is to get every business visible online,” she said, adding that any business that is interested in succeeding at all needs to have a website and readily available information online such as hours, location and contact information.
Another project is a promotional video she is working on for the Gateway hilltowns. LeClair has interviewed several new residents and a town official about “Why choose Gateway Hilltowns” in a video that will be posted on the website. LeClair said the first video will be up in two weeks, but more may be coming.
She has also officially launched the Gateway Enterprise Club, a small business education hub for students at Gateway Regional. She will be at the Club Fair at the school on Monday morning to recruit students, and hopes to hold the first meeting on Wednesday, October 4.
LeClair said because the Gateway hilltowns used to depend on a mill economy, the area didn’t need to promote itself as a tourist destination. Once those mills closed and the foundation was gone, there was and is a need for new streams of revenue.
LeClair believes big business is not the answer. She sees a potential for creative mixed-use housing and art spaces in the old mills. “Totally possible,” she said. “It’s not worth anyone’s time to artificially shore up a mill,” she added.
LeClair said there is a wealth of small businesses, entrepreneurs, family agriculture, craftsmen and artists in the area.
She also said the Gateway hilltowns are not the only ones facing the same challenges. Recently, LeClair attended a Community Compact Conference in Worcester representing the Hilltown Collaborative, the group that applied for and oversees her twelve-month grant-funded position, which she hopes the towns will pick up themselves next year in their budgets.
She said people around the state are really interested in small towns working together. “We’re ahead of the curve, and everyone’s seeing the value in what we’re doing,” she said.