Jen Stromsten and Alex Beck: Welcoming New Americans and Building up a Rural Economy

If you live in a small town, grew up in one, or just have a rural community that’s close to your heart, you’ve probably heard things like, “Young people don’t stay in this community,” or “After the plant closed, we’ve been losing population.”

When people leave and no one comes to replace them in smaller towns, businesses shut down, schools are half-empty, open positions can’t be filled, and even basic services are a struggle to cover with declining property taxes. It’s a downward spiral.

Today’s guests are doing something about that. Jennifer Stromsten is the Director of Programs at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation in Brattleboro, Vermont, and Alex Beck runs their Welcoming Communities program. These leaders take a holistic approach to addressing problems like population decline through economic investment, workforce training, and, of particular interest for our conversation today, inviting new Americans—refugees—to their community and helping them integrate and find employment when they arrive. 

Jen and Alex talk about how this Welcoming Communities initiative has breathed new life into their rural town, giving a sense of hope for the future, filling necessary jobs and rebuilding the economic prospects of the place.  Their organization has worked with local businesses to partner them with new immigrants, coordinating transportation, setting up interpreters when needed, and figuring out what training these refugees need to get back on their feet and begin employment in Brattleboro. It's a situation that everyone is benefitting from.

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