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Shuttered Vt. College Would Be ‘Innovation Hub' Under New Proposal

A feasibility study recommends converting the College of St. Joseph in Rutland into a business incubation center

Following the closure of three small Vermont colleges in 2019, a new plan is emerging to transform one of those campuses for future use.

When the College of St. Joseph told its roughly 200 students it would close after its May graduation, having lost accreditation because it was so cash-strapped, many around Rutland wondered what would happen to its 117-acre campus.

"Doing nothing isn't really a good option," said Dennis Moynihan of Vermont Innovation Commons, which works to boost entrepreneurship in the state.

The group worked with college trustees and other partners on a feasibility study for the property.

The recommendation to come out of the study is that the campus buildings be transformed into a so-called innovation hub, to be known as the CSJ Center for Excellence and Innovation.

The proposed center would have co-working space, non-degree education and workforce development programs as well as mentorship opportunities for startups — such as how to find seed money, according to the document written as part of the study.

"This is the nest where they can launch," Moynihan said of the innovation hub idea in an interview last week.

Backers of the concept believe the College of St. Joseph is the right place for this, since it sits in what's known as an "opportunity zone." Those areas are federally designated as places where new economic activity is so needed that investors in enterprises within the zones may qualify for certain tax benefits.

"In the 21st century economy, things are moving really fast," Moynihan said. "The world of work is changing, jobs that have been good providers are being eliminated by technology and new jobs are being created. And I think it's important for all of us to be attuned to thinking about today and tomorrow, and not simply about what's worked in the past — so that we're not just responding to changes, but we're seizing opportunities."

The College of St. Joseph said it believes having a space where ideas can be shared and nurtured, with an aim of developing startup businesses, is in line with the institution's 60-plus-year commitment to learning.

"To see people rally around an idea and a mission and a vision is really exciting," Jennifer Scott, the president of the College of St. Joseph, told necn last week. "We wanted to make sure whatever we built was still consistent with our educational public purpose and mission."

Scott and Moynihan know there is a lot of work ahead. The idea still needs financing and buildings have to be renovated, they noted.

If those hurdles can be cleared, Vermont Innovation Commons and the College of St. Joseph are convinced a business incubator center could help reinvigorate both the quiet Rutland campus and its rural surroundings.

Green Mountain College in Poultney and Southern Vermont College in Bennington also closed to students this year, due chiefly to financial struggles.

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