The Vermont Economy

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.

Governor Peter Shumlin held a press conference reacting to Entergy's decision to close the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon, Vt. The press conference was held August 27, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt.

  

Even with the recent spike in the unemployment rate this summer, Vermont remains one of only eight states in the nation with a jobless rate below 5 percent, a figure touted often by Gov. Peter Shumlin as evidence of this state’s relative economic health.

Paradoxically, however, the number of Vermonters who report being employed has actually been on the decline for well more than a year. And one analyst says the rosy unemployment rate obscures a more alarming trend in the local labor market.

AP/ Toby Talbot

A legislative committee has approved a plan to roll back restrictions on how the state cares for homeless people.

The change reverses elements of an earlier proposal that had advocates worried that more people would end up on the street.

But a legislative hearing on the issue revealed concerns that the state has failed to address underlying issues of homelessness.

The hearing before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules addressed what some on the panel said were the unintended consequence of budget cuts imposed by the Legislature.

Thinking about starting or relocating a business? If so, the Town of Brandon wants to talk to you! This week the Brandon Office of Economic Development updated what it calls its Economic Development Toolbox. It's a list of resources available to business owners and potential business owners.

VPR/Bob Kinzel

In just six weeks, Vermonters will embark on a brand new way to purchase health insurance. They'll be signing up through the state's new health care exchange for coverage that starts in January.

Many consumers and small businesses have a lot of questions about how this new system is going to work and what it means for them in the future.

Mark Larson, the commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, kicked off a recent briefing on the status of the state’s health care exchange, known as Vermont Health Connect.

In addition to the state’s major revenue sources -- the income tax, the sales tax, the meals and rooms tax and the corporate income tax -- there are many other taxes that provide money to the General Fund.

There’s the liquor and wine tax, the insurance premium tax, the telephone gross receipts tax, the property transfer tax, the bank franchise tax and the inheritance tax.

Susan Zeller is the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management. She says she keeps a close watch on the personal income tax and there’s a good reason why

Courtesy South Burlington City Council

The city of South Burlington is moving forward with plans to build its own city center. Plans include a downtown area with shopping, dining, access to public transit and even affordable housing. 

Inspired by downtown re-vitalization in cities like Winooski, the South Burlington City Council passed a resolution last month to move forward on planning the project. But the process is likely to take years.

VPR/Charlotte Albright

In early July, North Country Hospital, in Newport, announced that it would end two programs and lay off at least nineteen workers.

The cuts come after two years of red ink, and a projected three percent shortfall.  Now the question is how the hospital plans to move forward.

The state is seeking to bolster existing broadband service in some communities in an effort to help local economies.

Until now, the efforts of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority have been devoted to making sure broadband reaches all areas of the state.

Executive Director Chris Campbell says with that goal in sight, the authority is looking beyond it and trying to determine how to meet increasing demands for bandwidth.

Governor Peter Shumlin is highlighting new grants for workforce development and efforts to re-organize the state's job training programs.

On Wednesday, Shumlin and Labor Secretary Annie Noonan traveled to the headquarters of Cabot Cooperative Creamery on the outskirts of Montpelier to announce two federal grants.

One grant will help unemployed people start new businesses. Noonan said the $50,000 grant will include mentoring.

Vermont Center For Geographic Information - VCGI

Vermont is again ranked as the state with the highest average internet speed according to the latest Akamai Quarterly State Of The Internet Report

In the past officials have cited the report as proof that Vermont is doing well in its broadband efforts, but there’s no shortage of people who are skeptical of the report’s findings based on their own broadband speeds.

Resiliency has been a buzzword ever since Tropical Storm Irene.

The goal of resiliency is to improve the ability of communities to recover from natural disasters.  In some cases that involves building bigger culverts and better bridges.  But there’s also a digital side to resiliency.

After Irene, bulletin boards sprang up in many towns hit by the flooding.  They were covered with announcements, pleas, offers, announcements and other information.  

Five major construction projects have been given the green light in the Northeast Kingdom. Over the next few years over a thousand jobs are expected to be created. In a region with a traditionally higher unemployment rate than the rest of the state, that should be great news.

But a new report says candidates for these jobs- mostly in the hospitality sector- could be difficult to find.

VPR/John Dillon

Economists say the state is steadily rebounding from the recession, but that the recovery would be stronger if the fiscal stalemate ended in Washington.

As a result of the positive news, Gov. Peter Shumlin and leading lawmakers have slightly raised Vermont’s revenue forecast.

Economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr gave a tag-team presentation at a meeting of the Emergency Board. The panel – chaired by the governor – makes fiscal decisions when the Legislature is out of session.

VPR/Charlotte Albright

Work is finally about to start on a four-season recreation trail  proposed  to span northern Vermont. The Lamoille Valley Rail Trail has been on the drawing board  for over a decade, and on Friday there was a ground-breaking ceremony in St. Johnsbury.

Toby Talbot / AP/file

Entergy, the corporation that owns the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, plans to cut its labor force.

State officials say they have not been notified how many jobs could be lost in Vermont. But the lay-offs could play a role in Yankee’s request before utility regulators that it be allowed to

Entergy has launched a company-wide effort to cut costs and increase efficiencies. Company officials did not agree to an interview. But in a written statement, Entergy said: “We do expect workforce reductions to be one result of this initiative.”

Vermont's unemployment rate climbed to 4.4 percent in June, the second consecutive month-to-month increase.

The June seasonally-adjusted rate climbed three-tenths of a percentage point, after climbing one-tenth of a percentage point from April to May.

The comparative national rate in June was 7.6 percent, which was unchanged from May.

Despite the increase, Vermont's unemployment rate remained the fourth lowest in the country.

Local, non-seasonally adjusted rates ranged from 3.6 percent in Hartford to 7.3 percent in Newport.

The state says IBM has dropped its objection to the disclosure of the number of jobs cut at the company’s plant in Essex Junction. 

In the wake of IBM’s decision the state has announced that 419 people were laid off this month.

On Monday IBM told state officials that the disclosure of the layoff information would violate a provision of the public records act that protects trade secrets.

According to the state, IBM argued that the number constitutes highly sensitive and confidential commercial information.

AP/Toby Talbot

IBM has provided the state with details about the number of jobs cut at its Essex Junction plant, but it wants the state to keep the information from the public. 

The company claims that releasing the number could harm it.

The number of employees given pink slips in Essex Junction a month ago has been the subject of much speculation for weeks. 

Under Vermont law IBM is required to inform the state of mass layoffs and respond to requests for additional information. 

VPR/Annie Russelll

IBM still has not disclosed the exact number of employees it has laid off from its Essex manufacturing plant.

The company told the workers a month ago that their jobs were being eliminated. And the state expected to know by now the exact number who were let go.

The lack of detailed information frustrates some of the former IBM workers who attended a job fair on Monday.

The job fair drew about 80 Vermont companies and several hundred job-seekers who were recently separated from IBM.

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