The city of Burlington is doing everything in its power to become Vermont’s tech hub. The region boasts an international airport and high-speed internet. Next-generation companies such as Dealer.com and MyWebGrocer have joined legacy ones such as GlobalFoundries and General Dynamics. A new nonprofit, BTV Ignite, is gearing up to align “Burlington’s powerful gigabit infrastructure as a tool, test bed and accelerator for economic, educational and community benefit,” according to its website.
Yet, in their quest for a brighter future, Chittenden County’s connectors could learn a thing or two from the past — specifically from the town of Springfield, which was arguably Vermont’s first tech hub. As recently as 1980, the machine-tool industry employed about 3,000 people there and defined the town’s social and economic identity. Known as Precision Valley, Springfield was a white-collar community, populated by engineers and executives, with the highest per-capita income in Vermont.
“All of that has flipped 180 degrees,” said Bob Flint, 53, who recalled a time when there were multiple shifts at Jones & Lamson and Bryant Chucking Grinder Company, two of Springfield’s four preeminent machine-tool companies. The town’s streets were once jammed with commuting workers. But now, said Flint, executive director of the Springfield Regional Development Corporation, they have a different traffic problem: drug dealers. Springfield’s household income today is about $10,000 below the Vermont median, and one-third of its residents receive some form of public assistance.