Southeastern Vt. Grapples With Potential Job Loss

Sep 9, 2013

Even before the news that Vermont Yankee would close in 2014, the state’s southeast corner was grappling with declining jobs, wages and population.

A Career Expo in Brattleboro this month will address these problems, which experts say would exist with or without the region’s highest-paying employer.

A coalition hoping to improve the local employment picture has been working since last fall on the expo, scheduled for September 26.

David Altstadt, the expo’s coordinator, is with the Windham Workforce Investment Board. Altstadt says the expo is not just about matching workers with jobs. It’s about developing a work force that will eventually command better wages and opportunities.

Altstadt says the 25 exhibiting employers will be ready to talk about long-term career opportunities.

“We’ve also invited a number of the region’s colleges and technical schools to exhibit,” Altstadt says. “Hopefully, this is part of connecting the dots. We hope that as folks hear about their dream occupations, if they don’t have the necessary skills or credentials, they’ll take a stop by some of our education institutions to hear about the kinds of program offerings they have which will give them the necessary skills to do those jobs.”

Representatives of government and non profit agencies will also be on hand, to help with the logistics of training for, and keeping good jobs.

The groups behind the expo have also made an effort to attract job seekers from surrounding states. Altstadt says many people in the area cross state lines to go to work.

That mobility has often worked against Windham County, in part because educated workers can usually earn more money for comparable jobs outside the region.

Jeff Lewis, director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Union, says there are some very good jobs in the region.

“As we look at the economy of Southeastern Vermont,” Lewis says, “The most striking element is that we lack sufficient workforce to fuel the high quality employers that we have in the region. We have a roughly twenty-year history of losing work force. And because we’ve lost work force we’ve lost jobs.”

The situation is predicted to get much worse with the loss of some 630 of the region’s highest paying jobs when Vermont Yankee closes.

A regional task force issued a grim report in 2012 on how the closing would ripple through the region’s economy.

It’s been assumed that many of Yankee’s highly trained engineers would leave the region to work at other plants.

The economic impact would be more gradual if Entergy, the plant’s owner, decides to decommission the plant right away. The process can take a decade and would keep some workers employed.

But if Entergy mothballs the plant for several decades before decommissioning -- a method called SAFSTOR -- the economic impact would be more dramatic.

Jeff Lewis of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation says there are many unanswered questions about Entergy’s strategy for closing.

“We don’t know, and the plant doesn’t know,” Lewis says. “These are conversations we’d like to have with the workforce and the plant. There’s a lot of loose ends here that have to be worked out.”

Meanwhile, business groups are following many of the recommendation made by the 2012 report on the plant’s closing. Much of it involves the slow work of building a better trained work force and a higher wage economy.

Sponsors say the Career Expo is a step in that direction.