Betsy Bishop: Focus on economic development characterized the 2019 legislative session

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Betsy Bishop, the president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

Prevailing post-adjournment reports have sidelined the praise both the Legislature and the administration deserve for their contributions to Vermont’s economy. While it is tempting to continue debating the 2019 political turmoil, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce instead chooses to celebrate some of the many areas where legislators actively responded to the needs of the business community.

Betsy Bishop

Betsy Bishop is president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce

With a Democratic supermajority controlling the House and Senate, and a Republican occupying the state’s highest office, pre-session legislative forecasts predicted dysfunction and conflict. Fortunately, Vermont continues to distinguish itself as a place of civility and reason. This was made evident by the cordial and productive relationship witnessed in the 2019 legislative session between the Legislature and the governor. Ultimately, what was lost in catchy headlines was gained in the passage of some overwhelmingly beneficial economic policies.

But this cohesion was no accident. Throughout the winter and spring, the business community pressed the Statehouse to first, do no harm, and second, to begin addressing some of the state’s most urgent economic needs. The Vermont Futures Project identified a goal to increase the workforce by 10,000 workers annually, and the Legislature showed its commitment to mitigating this supply gap by supporting policies that better attract and retain a highly trained workforce. While the issue of worker shortages impacts virtually every industry and was a topic at the forefront of most economic development conversations, it was only one of many areas where significant progress occurred.

Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature truly embraced the opportunity to work together whenever possible, placing the interests of Vermonters far ahead of temptations to partake in unproductive political gamesmanship. Evidence of this is most apparent in the bipartisan focus on economic development that characterized the 2019 legislative session. Some of the resulting standout successes include:

• Passage of a workforce bill that provides $1.95 million for expanded incentives, including the remote workers program and $2 million in tourism marketing funds as well as an additional $225,000 to market Vermont as a place to live and work

• Provision of resources to research initiatives to better enable populations with traditional barriers to employment to enter the workforce, with emphasis placed on the corrections population, workers in recovery and new Americans.

• Changes enacted to the Vermont Training Program to add guidelines that focus grants on small businesses.

• Passage of legislation to include marketing of the state-owned airports in the state’s economic development marketing plan.

• Passage of legislation that clearly defines state-owned master permits for airports, including Act 250, Agency of Natural Resources and other applicable permits.

• Passage of a broadband bill that substantially increases broadband access to the nearly 50,000 Vermonters who lack high-speed internet.

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce commends the work of all policy leaders, but particularly acknowledges the legislative leadership of Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro-Tempore Tim Ashe, as well as the Scott administration’s ongoing commitment to make Vermont an affordable and economically robust state. The minority party was also an essential element in promoting affordability and a policy environment that prioritized strong economic development initiatives.

Like all states, Vermont faces many challenges — high taxes, cumbersome permitting requirements for development and an overall high cost of doing business, to name a few. But considering the real economic progress made in 2019, this session was undoubtedly a win for the business community.

Image courtesy of Betsy Bishop

5 thoughts on “Betsy Bishop: Focus on economic development characterized the 2019 legislative session

  1. Reading Lynn Edmunds thoughtful comment on the demise of small business in Vermont brings to mind the idyllic days of our youth in the 50s when wages were $.50/hour, and we were free from the onerous, anti-entrepreneurial baggage dumped on us by our current government. The key word here is FREEDOM. Every new regulation emanating from the mindless fish in Montpelier nibbles away at our glorious freedom.

    Much of this transformation occurred with the advent of the interstate in the mid to late 60s, thus allowing all the little fish from the big pond of Gotham to migrate north and become big fish in the frog pond of Vermont.

    Gone now is the inexorable connection between man and the sanctity of earth, replaced by the urban blight that the minnows from Megalopolis brought with them. What’s next? Storm troopers knocking down your door at 3a.m.? God help us.

  2. Economic development would not be a function of government if Vermont were truly a free market Capitalist State, however over the last fifty years much has changed.

    How Sweet It Was
    The passing of a family member is a sad occasion, sometimes leaving us to speculate why when it’s premature or untimely. On the other hand the reason for the passing of a family business while sad may be easier to discern.

    I came across a letter recently that explained such a closing written by Carol Handy owner of The Vermonter Candy of Putney Vermont. She told the story of how her family founded the business in 1950 in Dorset Vermont and then moved to Putney where it has operated until its closing shortly after writing her letter in 2017.

    Taking over the company in 2004 she joined the Vermont Specialty Food Association to help stay abreast of state and federal legislation and new government regulations. However the process of making her candy being labor intensive, combined with the ever rising minimum wage increases caused the price of her product to rise resulting in fewer and fewer sales to where it was no longer profitable to continue.

    At the time of closing she employed five part-time workers who now have no income from this family business small though it may have been and the product they produced is no longer in production.
    While Carol admits there are other factors that contributed to making a box of candy more costly she believes the minimum wage was the most daunting.

    It‘s sad to think many of the reasons for the demise of this small family business has roots in the decisions made by what our current form of governance has become, but while most of us were busy with life toiling to make a living for our families, we neglected to pay attention to the purpose of our governing or to connect the dots when it deviated from its true mission of protection rather than intrusion.

    Looking back 50 years some of us remember the can do attitude that existed at a time when anything seemed possible, but perhaps more importantly there was less government restriction and a more predictable pathway for entrepreneurs to create jobs that could be filled leaving compensation to the discretion of workers and employers. Now a more rigid minimum wage structure simply ignores the circumstance of both worker and employer by dictating a mandated outcome that may put them both out of business.

    Remember, the Vermonter Candy was founded in 1950, but could Carol start that same candy company today and if she could how much bureaucracy would she have to negotiate and would the cost of startup prevent her from even trying?

    Many of us didn’t notice how government began to change 50 years ago but hind sight has a way of becoming 20/20 and having been there at the start I can tell you we are now neglecting to protect key elements of our founding principles and free market economic system to our detriment and perhaps our demise if this trend continues.

    It was in the late 1960’s when central planning came to our state with the establishment of regional planning commissions. Participation by towns was voluntary then, however half a century later most communities in Vermont are now members of a regional planning commission that insists it’s here to help. But perhaps the irony is we still voluntarily participate in this ritual of planning as if it were mandatory even after exhausting years of time and energy with seemingly little recognition of accomplishment.

    As we continue to plan and revitalize, nothing seems to change our trajectory but we are told more programs to create economic development are a must, so we resume planning with the help of government planners, government grants and government subsidies, plus a little help from so called non government organizations (NGO’s) who perhaps have unknown agendas.
    The question is, will all this planning and control help reverse the trend of our 50 year decline or merely continue perpetuating it?

    And is it only a coincidence this decline started around the same time we began to experiment with central planning throughout our state?

    Today laws and regulations enacted shortly after state planning began have evolved or morphed into a convenient excuse to stifle growth while giving the illusion of government protection. They can also discourage by uncertainty, exhaust investment capital and function as a pay to play thus eliminating competition from even occurring in a market that is presumed free for all to enter.

    However these punitive laws and regulations have only been addressed by the creation of benevolent programs designed to compensate for what planners have so far been unable to revitalize. Programs are now created at an alarming rate and with good intensions, but we should understand these programs only consume wealth, they do not produce it.

    Similar to a minimum wage increase programs raise the bar of the livable wage for everyone, much the same as a forced wage increase lowers the standard of living for the entire economy by increasing prices. There is also a cumulative affect with program creation that may result in more programs being needed to remedy the cost or damage caused by each previous one created. So it is important we realize the mere gesture of helping one group of people becomes a multiplier of negative impact for others when outcomes are substituted for opportunity.

    We should not confuse equal outcomes with equal opportunity!
    Policy and regulation that advocate for equal outcomes are damaging to our economy and standard of living and are prevalent when too much program creation exists.

    We are perhaps currently in a state of planning paralysis brought on by attempts to create prosperity artificially and heal an ailing economy, but the medications of program creation and Micro Management seem only to make the disease worse causing us to wonder if a less toxic treatment regiment might be in order. Maybe if we just went back to doing things like we were before we became ill that might help?

    Vermont can be a prosperous and affordable state again if we follow our founding principles and protect the rights of all individuals equally, however we must create products not programs, as producing creates prosperity while programs consume it. Each of us has an obligation and a responsibility to be productive but sometimes that is difficult to achieve when government dictates otherwise.

    Too much planning creates the need for too many programs, followed by too many policies and too many regulations, but can our problems be remedied by artificially manipulating outcomes to an arbitrary and punitive conclusion?

    It is perhaps human nature to want to control but our founders recognized the freedom to own property created the incentive to produce and while some will produce more than others it is organic and natural to seek one’s own comfort level of success. This philosophy serves us well until we engage in manipulating outcomes that discourage the incentive to produce!

    Perhaps getting back a little closer to that sweet spot before central planning was employed would reacquaint us with more free market opportunities.

    Just maybe then we might realize Government Manipulation and Oversight (GMO’s) aren’t really that good for maintaining our prosperity or affordability!

    Is it possible a little dose of individual incentive from the past just might work wonders?

    Lynn J Edmunds

  3. I did not see anything that will benefit the states business community. The tourism business has got to continue but Vermont has to begin to be open and welcoming to other industries. Vermont has worked too hard to put businesses out of business especially the manufacturing sector. I guess I wasn’t wearing the rose color glasses!

  4. Nibbling around the edges is not going to fix Vermont! In the last paragraph the phrase, “Like all states……..” is not accurate. How about our neighbor, New Hampshire? Vermont is blind to the real problems which are so obvious!

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