Vermont Business Future

The ideas that business is intrinsically good or bad or can flourish only in a wholly unregulated environment are equally simplistic and dangerous. Business is no different from any other socio-economic organizing principle: government, church, community, non-profit or family. History is riddled with adverse social, environmental and economic consequences of individuals behaving badly, sometimes within the rules. Ethics are determined by individuals not businesses. And for business to create jobs and benefits it must have stable rules by which to play.

The complaint from business that the “rules” are mercurial, subject to political cycles and are thus always vacillating between political ideologies is a fair one. Rules need to be principle-based, consistent, apolitical, and not a knee-jerk reaction to an event or need. Business must be able to count on a consistent regulatory and legislative environment in order to make growth investments. The rules cannot oscillate wildly during the life of that investment despite the fact that politics in Vermont can recycle every two years.

Strategic vision is as important as a stable, predictable regulatory environment. Technology has so enhanced access, navigation, search and transaction speed that niche markets, specialization and creativity have begun to rival commodity manufacture as key economic drivers – witness Google and Chrysler.

There is little discernible vision for Vermont’s economic future in Montpelier these days. The idea that bringing broadband to the Northeast kingdom is novel or strategic in 2007 is sad. Slovenia or Ireland would say “been there; done that.”

When business suffers, its choices are to cuts cost or increases sales. Government is no different. It must control costs and increase the economic activity that funds its priorities with new tax revenue. Our current “affordability crisis” is a result of years of failed economic development, loss of manufacturing and stagnant growth. Honk if you honestly believe it is cheaper to live in Connecticut or New York!

Executive, legislative and regulatory leaders must reach consensus on a durable regulatory framework outside of politics, lobbying and the knee-jerk temptation to solve acute budget shortfalls. It must be informed by durable principles and a vision for what we want Vermont to become.

There are still plenty of options for business growth and stability but they are not the same-old, same-old. They’re new ones, the way captive insurance was 20 years ago. We must put our best minds to work on what sectors to develop. Vermont’s economic vitality is ours to lose.

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