Vermont Stimulus Conference Draws Hundreds of People

Fri March 13, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Lisa Rathke




BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) One couple came looking for work for their small construction company in Washington. An Enosburg Falls official sought funding for a water project. And the owner of small wireless Internet service provider in Plainfield wanted to know how to get a grant to expand his business.

They were among a crowd of more than 700 who turned out March 6 for a conference aimed at helping people find out how they can get some of the money designated for Vermont in the federal stimulus package.

“I’m just looking to what I have to do to bail myself out,’’ said Leonard Ruggiero, 51, of Vermont Laser Works, an industrial laser cutting and engraving business in Essex. “I’ve had several very good years and then since 2007 it’s been getting increasingly difficult to the extent that I can no longer afford the medical insurance.’’

The conference featured workshops explaining what’s in the stimulus package for families, businesses, infrastructure — roads, water projects and economic development — first responders and law enforcement.

Sheila Duranleau of Duranleau Construction in Washington came looking for ways that her company might get work from the funding.

“Like everybody else around here we’re struggling to really see what the future holds for us,’’ she said.

Vermont is expected to get $700 million directly, with more benefits available through tax incentives and unemployment coverage, said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a sponsor of the event at Champlain College. On March 6, conference participants learned that the money would be used to provide small business loans, extend emergency unemployment insurance and expand benefits for hungry families. The funding for small business loans could be available in the next two weeks, officials said.

After attending the business workshop, Ruggiero said he learned the basics of where to go to get more information that could help him.

So many people signed up for the conference that organizers had to turn people away and are planning a second one in southern Vermont, said Leahy, who sponsored the event with Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican.

“It’s not just Republicans, it’s not just Democrats who are hurting. We’re all hurting,’’ Leahy said. “And it’s not a question of Republican success or Democratic success. We are in this together. We have to come out of it together. I’m confident we will.’’