Around the country, states and cities are competing for talent, financial investment, and to attract the next generation of workers and families. As this acceleration of “purpose built” economic ecosystems continues Vermont has clear advantage. We are one of the safest, healthiest and most vibrant places to live in the nation. We have a good education system that, with the courage to innovate and modernize, can be transformed into the very best in country – adding an even greater incentive for young families to stay or relocate here. These attributes are the foundation of Gov. Phil Scott’s approach to significantly improving the economic trajectory in all 251 communities in Vermont.
Growing the economy and making Vermont more affordable, two of the administration’s top priorities, requires a clear focus on the fundamentals. This means “purpose building” economic and community systems to retain and recruit jobs and workers. It means addressing cost of living and doing business here – like housing, energy and health care, and the percent of paychecks collected by taxes and fees.
We’re beginning to see results.
Over the last year, more than 30 businesses have trained thousands of workers with enhanced 21st century skills. Some, like Vermont Precision Tools, are implementing innovative apprenticeship programs. From Logic Supply to Lawson’s Finest to Greensea Systems, employers have grown and many are looking to expand further. Since January, we’ve added about 4,000 workers to Vermont’s labor force after years of steady decline.
We expanded downtown and village center tax credits and tax increment financing (TIF) to help smaller communities grow. In 2018, we invested almost $6 million, helping communities and businesses expand – like the Park Street project in Springfield and the Putnam Block in Bennington. Scott proposed, and the Legislature passed, a $35 million housing bond to increase availability of homes working families can afford. As the largest investment in housing in Vermont’s history, this bond will create 1,000 construction-related jobs and generate $100 million in construction and renovation activity. We created the ThinkVermont Innovation Fund to support job training, broadband deployment, and to help find innovative ways for Vermont businesses to access research and development grants.
We’re supporting our businesses with commonsense approaches, including modernizing the permitting process to ensure good projects can move forward in a more predictable and impactful way. And, with the good work of businesses and employees to improve safety – we’ve lowered workers compensation rates, saving employers $30 million while sustaining the level of benefits.
Essential work continues to tell the full story of Vermont as a place to live, not just visit. ThinkVermont.com shares stories of Vermonters, employers, and communities to illuminate the vibrancy of our state. “Stay to Stay” weekends are connecting visitors with an interest in relocating to businesses and community leaders, helping them uncover all that is possible here. Recent coverage of the “Remote Worker” initiative – a small portion of the effort to attract and retain workforce and families – yielded over a billion (yes with a “b”) impressions, 927 media placements, and 2,000 individual inquiries about moving to the state. Over 2,500 people have inquired about the program and over 7,000 worldwide signed up to learn more about our state. This unprecedented interest in Vermont as a place to live and work reminds us how appealing Vermont is, but that the economic fundamentals – good job opportunities and competitive costs of living — matter too.
Simultaneously, state government’s approach to problem solving is changing under this administration. The Phosphorus Innovation Challenge, for example, is a first-of-its-kind effort using an innovative, private-sector approach to solving complex public challenges. Twenty-seven businesses, entrepreneurs and collaboratives – primarily based in Vermont – submitted responses to our “reverse pitch” competition, which seeks to find new ways to reduce phosphorus entering our watershed. If successful, the selected technologies will be one critical part of our clean water efforts and will mark the beginning of a new approach to government problem solving.
All of these efforts weave together a fabric of support for attracting and retaining workforce and growing our economy for the future.
There is much more work to do, of course – and we’re just getting started. Together with partners from every corner of Vermont, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development will continue to innovate, so every community in Vermont can be stronger, vibrant and more affordable.