A light bulb went off in Bill Parker's head this past spring when he saw battalions of integrated-circuit manufacturers taking early-retirement packages from IBM's Burlington, Vt., plant. "Those people were creative, inventive, and filled with entrepreneurial drive," says Parker, a native Vermont inventor. Along with IBM creative consultant and inventor John Cronin, Parker established the Vermont Inventors Association (VIA), which operates out of donated space with donated Digital Equipment Corp. computers at Vermont Technical College, in Randolph. The networking group of inventors, venture capitalists, patent lawyers, and assorted high-tech people numbers 80 and is growing at every monthly meeting. An on-line database for inventors' queries is being developed to encourage brainstorming. Currently in the hopper is a proposal for an Invention Factory, a facility Parker describes as "a library colliding with a machine shop and a hardware store, providing access to tools and people for inventors and inventors-to-be.' To date, the VIA has received support from the state's department of employment and training, economic-development authority, and governor, Howard Dean, and it should be operational by summer's end. Parker hopes to offset some of the estimated $10,000 monthly operating costs of the Invention Factory by staffing the facility with technical- and business-minded retirees -- he claims Vermont is teeming with them -- and to use any royalties to help new inventors. -- Alessandra Bianchi