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Middlebury sells Old Courthouse to high-tech incubator

April 12, 2011

College and supporter of high-tech start-ups expect deal will lead to closer collaboration

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Middlebury College and the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, one of the state’s leading backers of emerging high-tech businesses, have agreed to a deal that will provide the organization with a beachhead in Middlebury.

The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET), which currently maintains a facility on the campus of the University of Vermont in Burlington, has agreed to purchase the Old Courthouse at 5 Court Street in downtown Middlebury from the college for $2 million. Middlebury will then lease back most of the Courthouse space from VCET. The building will continue to house staff members from the Office of College Advancement, Middlebury’s fundraising operation, which also occupies Painter House, directly across Court Street from the Courthouse.

The purchase and sale agreement was signed by Middlebury College and VCET officials on Feb. 18, and a closing is expected in early March.

“VCET is Vermont’s leading technology incubation organization, and its programs have supported the development and growth of close to 30 businesses,” said Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz. “Middlebury has benefited in the past from its partnership with VCET, which has provided internship opportunities for many Middlebury students, and we anticipate those opportunities for our students will expand. In addition, we believe VCET’s presence at the Courthouse will be a great asset to the college, the town and Addison County, increasing the economic vitality of the region through its support of new businesses and through the eventual creation of new jobs.  We look forward to working with VCET to help bring alumni and friends of the college back to the region to begin new businesses or expand existing ones.”

VCET looks forward to further strengthening its ties with the college, according to David Bradbury, president of VCET. “What attracted us to Middlebury was an active willingness and desire on the part of the college to encourage economic development in Addison County and Vermont,” Bradbury said. “There is a strong entrepreneurial environment in Middlebury, in large part thanks to the college and its alumni and students. And Middlebury has always exhibited a very strong ‘plays-well-with-others’ vibe. That’s a compelling advantage in this age of global collaboration.”

Bradbury says that U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., along with the Vermont Technology Council and UVM’s Dr. John Evans, conceived of VCET as a technology incubator serving the state of Vermont. Leahy secured federal appropriations from the Small Business Administration and Housing and Urban Development to buy and set up two facilities, and to support the organization. One facility is at UVM’s Farrell Hall and the second will be at 5 Court Street in Middlebury. The senator and his senior staff are also actively engaged in helping the firms with which VCET works. “It’s truly remarkable how the senator personally assists next generation employers in Vermont,” said Bradbury.

Said Senator Leahy, “Middlebury has been a leader in fostering entrepreneurship in Vermont, and the agreement with VCET forges a partnership that will build new businesses and create new jobs for Vermonters. I commend the college for having the vision and commitment to spur future economic development in Addison County and Vermont.”

The benefit to the college and the town of collaborating with VCET was demonstrated most recently in December 2010, when eCorp English, a company based in Malta that teaches English as a second language to business executives, announced that it would move its headquarters and IT development division to Middlebury, creating about 35 new jobs locally, and possibly more down the road. VCET and Middlebury College worked with several other Vermont organizations to help persuade eCorp English to choose Vermont in general and Middlebury in particular.

In its nearly six years in existence, VCET has worked with about 30 companies, which have attracted $20 million in investment from public and private sources. The companies now employ about 150 people, up and down the state, from Woodstock to Middlebury to Burlington. And they’re hiring: Bradbury says that the companies now have about 45 job openings. “Our laser focus is on creating next-generation jobs for this generation of Vermonters,” he said. “Momentum and results are accelerating, and we see great potential here in the Middlebury region.”

Bradbury expects the Courthouse to serve as an occasional office for him and for other VCET executives, and to provide, eventually, space for “entrepreneurs in residence,” and possibly for start-ups in need of short-term physical space. But he points out that the VCET model is more about “the talent cloud” — the people they work with, and their networking potential in support of emerging employers — than about just providing a physical home for early-stage businesses.

Bradbury says that having a base of operations in Middlebury “will make it clear that we really do serve the whole state,” adding that it will be easier to work with companies in central and southern Vermont from a hub in Middlebury. “Partnering with Middlebury College’s leading innovation and entrepreneurial programs makes a lot of sense for VCET and our ecosystem of partners,” he said. “And, most importantly, it will allow us to offer more help to Vermont’s entrepreneurs. It’s really a triple win, for us, for Middlebury and for Vermont.”

About the Courthouse: The distinctive red brick building at 5 Court Street in downtown Middlebury, was built in 1883 on land originally owned by one of Middlebury’s founders, Gamaliel Painter. At one time hailed as the most beautiful courthouse in the state, the building replaced the original wooden courthouse, which was built in 1796 on what was then called Court Square. The brick courthouse was itself eventually replaced by the Mahady Courthouse, built in 1995-1996 just a few yards to the southeast. The college has owned the Old Courthouse since then, and it has been home at one time or another to Middlebury’s Center for Educational Technology, the Communications Office, and College Advancement.

About VCET: The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies is a leading-edge technology firm incubation program serving all of Vermont. Select, high opportunity firms are provided with substantive business mentoring, flexible office space, shared resources, venture capital, entrepreneurial workshops and access to VCET’s proprietary network of venture development professionals, investors and economic development partners. VCET is an independent 501 (c) 3 public benefit corporation. For more information, visit the website: