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A young Vermonter with a long family history here is Richford's first-ever town administrator

A drone view of Richford, Vermont from September 2021.
Michael Olio/Courtesy
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The northwest town of Richford, Vermont has its first town administrator: 22 year-old Michael Olio.

The northwest Vermont town of Richford is a small, rural community that rests along the Canadian border. It’s home to roughly 1,600 Vermonters. And it recently hired — for the first time in its history — a town administrator: Michael Olio.

He has deep roots in the Franklin County town, going back generations. But Olio himself hasn’t been around all that long. A recent graduate from Champlain College, Olio is just 22 years old. But what he may lack in experience, he’s making up for in ambition — because Olio says he’s got big plans for his hometown.

Vermont Public’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Olio about what prompted him to take the job, and his plans to revitalize the local economy. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: Tell me first about your journey to becoming Richford town administrator. You're 22 years old, newly graduated. What sparked your interest in town business?

Michael Olio: Well, it wasn't necessarily planned at first. When COVID happened, I came back home to do school online. And right before I went into fall semester of my senior year, there was a job posting from the town for an economic development coordinator role, part time, and I thought, "Oh, that'd be kind of cool to do for while I'm in school for the last semester." And it kind of just came into being the town administrator after that.

You kind of fell into it in a way it sounds like. But the position itself is new. What prompted the town to create a town administrator?

With the economic development coordinator role, from the success of that, led to creating a full-time position.

Well, Richford is your hometown; it's where you grew up. You went to Richford High School, and I understand that your father and your grandparents are Richford natives as well. And your mom is from just over the border in Canada. So I'm wondering what it means to you to be the first administrator that the town has ever had.

Yeah, I'd say it's an honor, because I never thought that would ever happen. But I'm pretty honored to do it.

And you're making quite the name for yourself, I would say that you are the second-most famous person from Richford. And that's because as you well know, track star Elle Purrier St. Pierre graduated from Richford High School. I wonder if you can give listeners who are not familiar with the town sort of the look, the feel of the place and some of the recurring issues and concerns that people have living in Richford.

Richford is a very rural town and has a lot of recreational opportunity. That's one vision for the town.

And if you want to get away from being in a city, I think it's a great place to reside. And I think with COVID, that's actually happened. The housing market in Richford saw a pretty big increase. I think that's going to create an interesting change in the population. And I think this is a good opportunity to kind of, you know, start fresh and kind of reset what Richford is economic-wise, and continuing to kind of evolve as a rural town in Vermont.

And being so close to Canada, I'm wondering if COVID also really hurt a lot of that cross-border transaction, and maybe just some of the personal relationships that folks in Richford had with their Canadian neighbors.

Yeah, that did that hurt quite a few businesses on our side. But we are seeing Canadians coming back. So I think, within the next year or two, as everything kind of lightens up, they'll probably be back to normal.

What I think is unique to Vermont is our smaller feel of communities. So, you’re kind of more connected with everybody. So with that you can create more change.
Michael Olio, Richford Town Administrator

As town administrator, Michael, what do you hope to accomplish? What are some things you think you can get done realistically, and what of folks in Richford hope that you will get done?

See our vision of being a recreational town, creating more opportunity. We have the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail here. We have various canoe launches and trails, walking trails. We want to kind of bring that all together. And also bringing more economic development. We have a lot of storefronts that are empty. And we have a lot of historical buildings that could use some work. So it would be great to be able to help and assist people with rehabilitating those properties that are historical to the area

And in that effort, do you think that you might try to get more people to know about the town of Richford? Because again, this is a very small town. Again, nestled up there near the Canadian border. And because about 13% of residents, as I understand it, in Richford do live below the poverty line. You know, there's economic problems there, but perhaps economic opportunity as well. How are you going to get people who come to Richford to experience some of these historical places you're talking about, and do more to generate some more income for the town?

It starts with more businesses coming in, bringing more opportunity, kind of like resetting the market. And the town will have to take some risk in that. I mean, we can't just wait for a private investor to come through to just, you know, make it happen.

And Michael, feel perfectly free to answer with complete honesty this next question, because I wonder if you're getting a little bit sick of folks like me asking about or pointing out the fact that you're so young. You know, being 22 years old — has that gotten old already, that question?

Not yet. I don't know, it's kind of cool in a way too. Because if that draws interest in the town, then I'm all for it.

And what about folks in town, have they been encouraging you? Have you been getting some, you know, kind of thumbs-up for what you're doing here — being the first town administrator the town has ever had?

Yeah, it's been great support. Many people, they're very supportive and willing to help with projects that I may have, or things that might come up in the community.

One more question, and this does relate to your age, Michael. And that's the fact that Vermont really has been trying so hard, especially in recent years, to keep young people in the state. First of all, do you plan to stay in the state of Vermont? And do you think that you being here and having the kind of job that you do, can inspire other younger people to follow suit?

Yeah, I plan on staying in Vermont. And I hope it does inspire people to stay. What I think is unique to Vermont is our smaller feel of communities. So, you’re kind of more connected with everybody. So with that you can create more change. So I think if younger people wanted to stay in Vermont, they would have more influence on how their communities are run, versus you know, being in a bigger city where your voice may not be heard as much.

Have questions, comments, or concerns? Send us a message or tweet your thoughts to @mwertlieb.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station WBUR...as a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Karen is Vermont Public's Managing Producer of Morning News. She manages the morning news content on broadcast and digital platforms, and works with Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb to bring listeners the latest news and information, along with relevant interviews. Karen has a long history with public radio, beginning in the early 2000's with the launch of the weekly classical music program, Sunday Bach. Karen's undergraduate degree is in Broadcast Journalism, and she has worked for public radio in Vermont and St. Louis, MO, in areas of production, programming, traffic, operations and news. She produces the Vermont Public Choral Hour, with host Linda Radtke. Karen recently worked with co-producer Betty Smith on a national collaboration with StoryCorps One Small Step, connecting Vermonters one conversation at a time.
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