(Host) Commentator Tim McQuiston Joins us today with some thoughts on the past year’s business climate in Vermont.
(McQuiston) Looking back on business in Vermont over the last year, there are two themes. On the one hand layoffs and plants closings, on the other is the first term of Governor Jim Douglas. He’s the first Republican governor in Vermont since Richard Snelling’s fateful last term to sit in the governor’s office with that magnificent view of the State House dome.
Douglas’ signature economic development strategy is to pursue permit reform. However, to at least some extent permit reform must go through the folks who work under that golden dome.
The new world economy offers workers in far-flung corners of the globe unheard of wages and opportunities. Those wages also happen to be minuscule compared to anywhere in the United States, even Vermont, where wages are below the US average.
Like all governors before him, Douglas has had to use a lot of personal skill and undoubtedly some political capital to save jobs at places like Vermont Tubbs furniture in Brandon and Chesapeake Hardwoods in Hancock.
Those are wins. There are also losses, not only because of the relentless foreign competition, but to the equally relentless domestic competition. The redeveloped Plattsburgh air base, thanks to federal grants, has become a powerful competitor, and just recruited the
warehouse operation and the 40 workers that go with it of April Cornel in Burlington. In November Relax-R in Milton announced it would close and consolidate in Canada, taking 22 jobs, and US Tsubaki in Bennington announced it would shut its doors, costing 70 jobs.
Vermont does not have any real knock out punches to land businesses. States like Florida, Texas and Nevada put their tax code front and center, and back it up with a major industry-large scale tourism, gambling, and a solid business friendly attitude.
Vermont has neither a tax code that makes businesspeople salivate, nor does it have the single monster industry. Instead, we use some tourism, manufacturing, services, health care, education and the subtle but vital quality of life to recruit and retain employers.
It works OK, but everytime IBM lays off another 500 or another thousand, a shutter runs through the entire state. Right now, the indicators appear to say that Vermont is doing all right despite the competition from near and far.
Governor Douglas is in the process of re-working the permitting process. This new year, he’ll need to convince the state Senate that his is a good idea not only for business but for the public.
That will take some doing. The process of participation sets Vermont apart from almost everywhere. Those in Vermont who want a say in how things are done will have to fight hard to keep that privilege. Jim Douglas will keep fighting too. This is Timothy McQuiston.
This is Timothy McQuiston.
Timothy McQuiston is the editor of Vermont Business Magazine.