When a region roars back: Green building builds Southern Vermont’s economy

Life is greener than ever in our Green Mountains.

Not only because of the glorious views, skiing, hiking, fishing, canoeing, and fine dining available in the rural hills and valleys of Southern Vermont. It’s because a number of visionaries, inventors, entrepreneurs, and businessfolk are spending quality time together brainstorming about the future in these changing times.

The impetus: a series of events that left the region reeling. Among them was the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. More recently, it was the closure of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vt., which brought with it the loss of 600 high-paying jobs—plus services, volunteers, and charitable giving.

Something had to be done to save the already struggling economy. But when the area looked closely at itself, it found it was well on its way to being the economic hub of a rapidly growing segment of the economy: green building.

The green economy cluster is going full throttle in the region, now encompassing more than 120 businesses, colleges, and organizations, three states, and four counties: Windham and Bennington counties in Southern Vermont, Cheshire County in New Hampshire, and Franklin County in Massachusetts.

Anchored by the far-seeing and far-reaching green pioneer Alex Wilson, whose seminal Environmental Building News was founded in Brattleboro in 1992, entrepreneurs, high-tech data scientists, architects, engineers, loggers and foresters, town and city planners, farmers, and even bankers have been developing innovative organizations, products and services that is not only meeting the rapidly accelerating challenge of climate change but exploring some of its opportunities.

In this issue, we take a closer look at two of these businesses that are both in the next generation of pre-fab home building—yet come at it from different angles—Unity Homes in Walpole and Ironwood Brand in Brattleboro.

Unity Homes in Walpole has been in business for just four years, but it’s already leading the next generation of home building. Native Vermonter Eli Gould, the son of a famous clown and a mother who a state representative, is the founder of Ironwood Brand, which manufactures prefabricated green-energy homes made of native lumber. Ironwood is expanding thanks to a $200,000 loan from the Windham County Economic Development Program.

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