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Paradise City and the Other Side of Massachusetts
Vince Jackson is executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council. We spoke to Vince about what’s coming up this spring and summer in Northampton and throughout Hampshire County.
Tell us about your career and how you came to lead the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce and Visit Hampshire County?
Before becoming executive director of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, I spent nearly two decades as founder and president of a marketing consultancy that specialized in brand strategy and marketing communications. Prior to that, I enjoyed a successful corporate career for 15 years at PepsiCo, Kraft and Procter & Gamble. One of my proudest achievements as a marketing innovator was the development and commercialization of Tostitos Scoops during my tenure at PepsiCo. My current role is a convergence of my broad business background and leadership experiences that include big business, small business and non-profit management.
Give our readers a quick overview of Hampshire County by the numbers.
As our tourism slogan explains, Hampshire County is on “the other side of Massachusetts” and covers 20 communities. We also refer to ourselves as the Five College Area which includes Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, and UMass Amherst. Our student population is over 40,000 and includes people from all 50 states and 82 countries. According to the 2020 census, the population in Hampshire County was over 162,000. Prior to the pandemic, we welcomed an estimated 2 million people to Hampshire County annually.
The Chamber really stepped in for small businesses during the pandemic. Tell us about the 413 takeout/dine out initiative you launched for restaurants.
It’s interesting; what made the 413 restaurant campaigns so successful was that they were a true community effort and call to action for everyone in the 413 area code to support our local restaurants. For each of the three distinct iterations of the campaign (413 Takeout, 413 Let’s Go Out and 413 Takeout/Dine Out) we asked everyone in the community to step up with 4 friends to each order 1 meal a week from a local restaurant, and to keep that up for 3 months. And they did! So as much work as we may have done to organize and launch the program, it was the community that made it work, and kept our local restaurants busy when they needed it most.
Similarly, our community had already demonstrated strong support of our small businesses when we kicked off a Community Revitalization Fund during the height of the pandemic. We raised $300,000 in just three months and provided microgrants of up to $5,000 to 88 small businesses, just as the economy started to reopen. And finally, community leader Scott Keiter, head of Keiter Corporation, funded the Keiter Card promotion, a special Northampton Gift Card promotion which doubled the purchasing power of anyone who bought a $25 card. They walked out with a $50 gift card! That economic impact was huge, and Keiter’s donation was hugely generous! Also, the Keiter Card promotion was especially timely as we celebrated the Northampton Gift Card’s 15thAnniversary. These are just a few examples of our mission-critical work to promote a thriving economy and community.
In a recent opinion column on MassLive.com, you predict a robust recovery for Northampton and Hampshire County this year. What are some of the factors that will ensure success?
I believe it starts with customer demand as people seek to return to a sense of normalcy in their lives. The increase in COVID-19 vaccinations, drop in positive test rates and hospitalizations, and decline in deaths are all contributing factors that give people the confidence to get out and go on with life. We are especially observing robust travel activity. Also, small businesses now have a playbook like they’ve never had before that captures how to pivot and innovate to meet demand and restore growth to their businesses. I also believe grant relief programs and deployment of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will continue to provide businesses and institutions with the support they need to get back on track.
When you have out-of-state visitors, where do you like to take them for a quintessential Northampton experience?
First of all, you have to come with an empty stomach; the restaurant scene in Northampton is a foodie’s paradise, whatever your favorite flavor. After a meal downtown – we have a lot of great outdoor dining when the weather warms up – we might shop our way through Thornes Marketplace or stroll up Main Street on our way to a performance at the Academy of Music (opened in 1891 and still going strong!). Of course, you’d have to top off the night with a stop at Herrell’s for some homemade ice cream. That hot fudge was voted #1 in the nation for a reason. Northampton is nicknamed “The Paradise City” and we try our best to live up to it.
For more information, go to VisitHampshireCounty.com