Where’s the Plan?

There is a “term of art” called the economic development toolbox.” In a “tad da” designed to delight Vermonters weary of plentiful $9.00 per hour jobs, rising fuel and health care costs and little real economic activity, Governor Douglas annoyed the legislators who were busy trying to heel to his previous “ta da” economic initiative, the “affordability agenda” by finding ways to equitably cut the cost of government in the face of lowered revenue projections.

The new “tad da” element which is supposed to generate $70 million dollars worth of economic benefit appears to be dependent on the new construction of some 400 houses, the filling of potholes by unemployed Vermonters and additional bonding. The myriad “spin off effects” like increased property and payroll taxes are expected to take us to the $70 million.  Presumably additional benefits are an end to the low income housing problem and an end to broken car suspension parts littering the shoulders of our roads. The quiet tradeoff is a suspension of certain aspects of Act 250, one of Vermont’s legislative hallmarks that, according to this administration just a few weeks earlier, made us not only great but impervious to the housing credit morass facing the rest of the country.

I am an optimistic person and remain steadfastly excited about Vermont’s future, but this sounds to me like a hastily planned series of knee-jerk reactions in the absence of a strategic plan for Vermont’s growth and recovery.

Before craftsmen use tools, they review the plan.

Vermont is rich in human and natural resources. It has established growth sectors and emerging ones. What it is lacking is visionary leadership that can marshal these resources into a comprehensive growth plan.

With oil nearing $120 a barrel and the middle class rising in Asia, high-quality, light manufacturing is re-emerging as a viable option for Vermont. The changing face of agriculture presents great opportunity if we invest in what we are becoming, not just in what we have been. Forest products provide rich opportunities for broad markets weary of imported Asian plastics.

Vermont employs almost 15,000 people in health care and research and enjoys some of the best quality and access in the nation. Most of the job growth in Vermont and in the nation is coming from the health care sector. We can grow this opportunity by sharing it in broader markets. Vermont is equally well respected for its educational systems and private and public colleges and universities which contribute substantially to our economy and social fabric and, arguably, ensure our greatest long term economic well being.

Tourism, historically envisaged as skiing and leaves, offers much greater opportunity especially when combined with learning, quality food production and wellness.

Vermont has more artists per capita than any other state. There is a reason. We could both grow creative output in a new media world starved for good content and grow audience by establishing natural performance venues as Killington is trying to do.

But we need a plan.

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