Managing the Past?

If we are not guided by a vision for the future, we end up managing the past. The problem with simply managing the past is that opportunities pass us by unrecognized like fish swimming by a hook with no bait on it. We see and feel the effects of inevitable change and we try to manage them. But in failing to envision a future, we can’t manage towards it.

Since no one can ever know the future, we must act on a vision for it. This has inherent risks. Politicians don’t like risk. Leaders, however, understand risk. Political leaders may or may not have their own vision, but being leaders they know to bring people together to forge a vision and to act on it, risky as it may be. He who risks nothing loses nothing, but neither does he ever gain anything. We must manage the impacts of change, but we must also manage towards a future. In so doing a leader can turn a vision into reality.

Vermont is better off than many other states. Our deficit is manageable. We actually have a rainy day fund. Our environmental footprint is light. Our schools are good, our communities strong, our environment relatively clean, and our crime rate relatively low. We have accessible, transparent government and no corruption. But those are all measurements of our past.

The lion’s share of our prospective vision comes now from our communities where change is being driven by volunteer community leaders rather than state and federal initiatives. Vermonters come together to address and solve local challenges of energy use, job creation, intercity transport, farmer’s markets, and caring for the young, elderly and disadvantaged.

National challenges like healthcare, transportation, stability of the financial system, source pollution control, energy generation, and educational funding must, however, be addressed at the state and federal levels. Communities can mitigate the negative effects of these problems, but they cannot solve them alone. Communities count on state and federal government as partners.

At the federal level, the lion’s share of tax revenues has gone to foreign military adventure and now to stabilizing the effects of a deregulated finance industry that the administration believed would naturally act in the best interests of its markets and by extension society. Communities, however, can only do so much to relieve the effects on their citizens of misplaced federal priorities.

Vermont has great opportunities in emerging artisan agriculture; healthcare and wellness education; cultural heritage, eco, sports and agri-tourism; light manufacturing, software and content development, energy management, and lifelong learning in retirement. None of that will come to pass, however, without leadership willing to risk policy change on a collective vision for Vermont. Furthermore, it will take smart regulation and a strategic tax code that supports and invigorates such a vision.

For reasons of scale, globalization and geography, we can’t count on attracting another great economic driver like IBM to Vermont. Instead, we will have to take advantage of myriad sector growth opportunities, and to do that, our leaders will need to develop a vision.

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