Business leaders say state must invest in education, technology

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(Host) Vermont business leaders say the state needs to invest in education and technology to keep the economy on track.

Without it, they say, rural areas of the state won’t prosper and economic development will stall.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) People in many areas of Vermont are finding it more difficult to get by.

Their wages have not kept up with the rising price of basic necessities, from gasoline to food, and they often have no health insurance.

Senator Bernie Sanders recently asked people to contact him with their perspectives about the economy. He says many people are struggling.

(Sanders) "I think in many ways in Vermont and throughout this country for middle class and working families the situation is probably worse than we perceive. I have the feeling, by the way, that inflation is being underestimated by government figures. I think the situation is worse than we know.”

(Sneyd) Business and economic leaders appeared on VPR’s Vermont Edition as part of a special project examining the state’s top challenges.

They say the state can help improve Vermonters’ lives with targeted investment.

Don Mayer of Small Dog Electronics in Waitsfield says that could help narrow the economic opportunity gap between rural and urban areas.

(Mayer) "I think there is an investment we need to make as a state in terms of our social infrastructure, in terms of our telecommunications, in terms of our transportation and housing that can help to mitigate the losses that we’re seeing and the rising costs that are created by external forces.”

(Sneyd) Vermont has invested generously over the years in social services and the environment.

But Lisa Ventriss of the Vermont Business Roundtable says many executives think too little attention has been paid to job creation.

(Ventriss) "Vermont needs to commit that same strategic, sustained investment in economic development policies as we have with these other arenas. Because if we don’t, then we won’t have revenue growth to continue supporting these programs.”

(Sneyd) University of Vermont economist Art Woolf says the current recession skews perspectives. He doesn’t believe the poor are being left behind.

(Woolf) "We’ve got more people going above the middle class. So we’re not getting an increasing disparity. There’s always been a disparity. Economic growth is a real good tonic for any kind of cure. I’d much rather be poor in Vermont in 2008 than in 1988 or 1968 because you’ve got access to a lot more opportunities and your lifestyle, your living conditions are a lot better.”

(Sneyd) So, what are business leaders looking for to improve the economic climate?

They say they want balance from state government – compassion for those in need mixed with wise investments in education, telecommunications and job training.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


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