The Vermont Economy

VPR Steve Zind
VPR's Steve Zind

VPR senior reporter Steve Zind focuses on the Vermont economy and its impact on our lives. Follow Steve Zind on Twitter, post comments on the stories, and let Steve know what local economy stories you think VPR should cover.

Food grown and produced in Vermont may soon be making an appearance at a new market opening in Boston. The initiative is part of a new "domestic export program" called for by an economic development bill signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin earlier this year.

And to hear Shumlin tell it, Vermont food is so sought after that when out-of-staters come here and shop, it's basically a scene of non-violent looting.

Young Vermonters often leave the state in search of higher-paying opportunities in big cities, but increasingly, tech and engineering jobs are available right here.

At Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium, job seekers showed up with resumes in hand, and companies were ready to greet them.

Much has been said about Burlington’s growing tech industry, and nowhere did it seem more robust than the eighth annual Vermont Tech Jam.

A company that started in Lyndonville 115 years ago making a salve for cow’s udders has new owners, and they hope to tap bigger markets.

Yellow, waxy Bag Balm soothes human as well as animal skin, and fans tout other uses, too. For example, incoming CEO John Packard has seen it quiet squeaky springs.

Growth in Vermont's local food systems is outpacing that of the state's overall economy by a rate of three to one and creating thousands of new jobs, according to new numbers identified by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

Over the past five years, local food systems have grown at a rate of 3 percent, while Vermont's economy as a whole has only grown at a rate of 1 percent. 

Vermont lawmakers have been working for years to move the state’s schools toward more efficient operations. They’ve passed laws and enacted tax incentives in an effort to make school district mergers easier and more appealing for local communities.

But when the question makes it down to the community level, the issues at play are many and complicated.

On July 2, the new Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital opened in Berlin. The $28.5 million facility is the centerpiece in the state’s mental health care network that has suffered to find enough beds for psychiatric patients since Tropical Storm Irene damaged the state hospital in Waterbury almost three years previous to this opening.

But as of just a few weeks ago, only 21 of the new care facilities’ 25 beds were available, in part because of a shortage of nurses. The new hospital was using traveling nurses to fill some of the open slots.

The groundwater sitting below IBM’s massive campus in Essex Junction still bears the chemical stains of the plant’s past. The company announced this week its selling the plant , but it still bears responsibility for the clean-up.

The offending compound is called TCE – short for tetrachloroethylene – and back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, IBM used it by the truckload. David Mears, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, says TCE turned out to be toxic stuff.

Vermont’s unemployment rate went up last month, from 4.1 percent in August to 4.4 percent in September, according to the latest report from the Department of Labor. Over the same period, the national unemployment rate fell from 6.1 percent to 5.9 percent.

Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan attributes the increase to seasonal trends, noting that last year’s unemployment rate followed a similar pattern in late summer and early fall.

The sale of IBM’s chip-making business looks to be good news for the approximately 4,000 Vermont workers employed at the company’s plant in Essex Junction. But the change in ownership will reignite a longstanding debate over whether Vermont is doing enough to retain and grow jobs in the state.

IBM has always been a flashpoint in Vermont politics. It’s a massive employer here, by the standards of this tiny state. And policy makers frequently stop to ask: is Vermont doing enough to keep employers like Big Blue happy?

The deal between IBM and GlobalFoundries for IBM’s chip manufacturing and sales divisions doesn’t fit the traditional definition of the word “sale.” In a sale, the money goes to one party and some asset or commodity goes to the other.

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