Armed with a degree in Natural Resource Planning from the University of Vermont, Melissa Levy spent 17 years working with established organizations on economic development and small-town planning, but two years ago she decided to set out on her own.
For the Hinesburg resident, it was an amicable split after 12 years at Yellow Wood Associates and she continues to do some projects with her former firm.
Today, Levy works mostly with small communities and nonprofits, and she felt strongly about having the word “community” in her company name. Because her job involves helping organizations build roots so they can be more successful at planning and organizational development, she chose the name Community Roots, LLC for her fledgling business.
“I love natural themes,” she said, “and a lot of my work is economic development with a natural resource base.” Levy believes Vermont is ahead of many parts of the country in terms of having economic development based on tourism and natural resources.
Levy previously did a lot of traveling with Yellow Wood and continues to do so with projects along the Mississippi River and with a Native American group in South Dakota. She is proud of the work she did to help an arts organization in Alabama expand. Levy said many of its artists had strong connections to nature including several potters who worked with clay mined on property which had been family-owned for 150 years.
“I love to travel and explore new places,” Levy said, “but I’m looking for a good balance of getting out and about and also supporting local Vermont communities and non-profits.” Levy has spoken at conferences across the U.S. on topics including collaboration, wealth creation, the environmental sector and strategic planning and measurement, and has been published in a variety of journals.
Sixteen years ago, Levy and her husband put down roots in Hinesburg. “We were looking for a great small community,” she said. “It’s nice to have a place where you can get involved and it’s so beautiful here.” Levy’s husband has been a member of the town’s fire department for several years and she has been a member of the Conservation Commission and the Economic Development Committee.
Levy was in graduate school when Hinesburg resident and UVM professor David Hirth suggested she join the Conservation Commission. Although her background isn’t a scientific one, she enjoyed the opportunity, and one of her duties was managing Geprags Park. Several years later when the Economic Development Committee was formed, Levy joined that group. “It seemed like more my skill set,” she said. “I like the idea of supporting local businesses and helping start-ups.” She is also on the board of the Vermont Environmental Consortium.
Levy said the Economic Development Committee’s sector-based strategy gives her the opportunity to think about agriculture, recreation and energy. “It lets me do a little bit of what I do at work, which is fun,” she said. “We have a revolving loan fund. I’m really interested in thinking about Hinesburg as a recreation center. We have a lot of opportunities to offer and that has been my pet project as part of the committee.”