I think everyone in Vermont felt extreme disappointment when they heard the news of the SEC investigation of the Q Burke and Jay Peak owners. I know I did.
I thought the idea of allowing foreign nationals to invest in rural U.S. projects in exchange for a green card through the EB-5 program was intriguing, especially since it allows traditionally depressed or under-invested areas to more easily raise much-needed funds for jobs and economic prosperity.
But now, the main owner of Jay and Burke stands accused of misusing tens of millions of investor dollars for himself. The new lodge at Burke stands locked and empty. Ambitious projects in Newport seem all but dead.
And I’m not the only Vermonter to be shocked by this kind of news. We don’t like to think this type of gross fraud, perpetrated by a rich 1%-er could ever happen here. We’re supposed to be like the Shire, a beacon of hope and sanity, while the evil Mordor lies well beyond our borders.
Now, no matter what the outcome of these charges, the dream of many Vermonters, that it was possible to turn the Northeast Kingdom into an economic success story has been seriously jeopardized and may not recover.
When Jay Peak opened its new lodge and waterpark a few years back it became the go-to place for a large number of Vermont families. It was a somewhat affordable, somewhat luxurious vacation getaway for families with kids of all ages. On Christmas and winter vacations it was packed with Vermonters. I was one of them.
On several occasions, I took my family there on short ski and swim vacations. I recommended it to visitors as a must-see in Vermont. In short, it was one of those experiences that met my admittedly high expectations of the way I think we all want Vermont to be.
We resist the thought that achieving that level of quality and optimism is impossible without cheating - or without being fleeced and left to clean up the mess ourselves.
It’s hard to accept that we may have an unrealistic picture of our state, and to be honest, I'm not ready to let go of the optimistic picture, yet.
While the news is a blow to our state, the investigation will ultimately determine whether the main flaw was the EB-5 program, an over-reaching owner, or the whole public/private investment system. But I hope the goal of a renewed Vermont created with high quality values, will still be one that inspires.