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.

Rutland County’s four colleges believe Green Mountain Power’s new energy innovation center can be a powerful educational tool for their students The colleges and utility announced a unique new collaboration that GMP officials hope will also help them find future employees.

Green Mountain Power President Mary Powell says their new partnership has many goals.

The sole employee of a small Vermont credit union has been charged with embezzlement.  A grand jury returned an indictment against Debra Kinney who was CEO and president of Border Lodge Credit Union in Derby Line.  

The credit union was closed last November by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

The indictment brought in U.S. District Court for Vermont charges Kinney with embezzling funds over a two year period between 2010 and 2012.  

A Burlington-based nonprofit called the Vermont Fair Foods Campaign released a report Thursday on working conditions in the state’s food industry. The group based the report on a survey of 168 food service workers across the state.

Workers cited low wages, no paid sick leave and unaffordable health care among their biggest concerns. Twenty-five percent of the workers surveyed said they either lost wages or had to work while sick.

AP File/Toby Talbot

A new round of layoffs has hit the IBM plant in Chittenden County.

After several weeks of speculation, Governor Peter Shumlin announced today that IBM has told the state it is laying off workers at its Essex Junction facility.

The exact number isn't known and the company says it will not discuss the layoffs.

AP/U.S. Air Force, Samuel King Jr.

The U.S. Air Force released its revised draft of the F-35 Environmental Impact Statement on Friday. And opponents and proponents of basing the fighter jets in Vermont have now had several days to review it.

The report has been updated to use 2010 census figures for the area surrounding Burlington International Airport.

At over 1,100 pages, the updated Environmental Impact Statement that grades air bases vying to serve as facilities for the F-35 is not light reading.

The unemployment rate in New England ticked down in April to 6.8 percent.

The New England Information Office of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Tuesday the average jobless rate in the six-state region fell one-tenth of 1 percentage point from March. The New England rate was 7.2 percent a year ago.

The national rate in April was 7.5 percent, compared to 8.1 percent a year ago.

Rhode Island and Connecticut had the highest jobless rates in the region in April, 8.8 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

VT State Website / State of Vermont

Vermonters have long been required to pay a tax on out of state purchases.  The problem is, most people don’t. 

The state estimates the lion’s share of those purchases is made online. And they will be taxed by the business making the Internet sale if a bill pending in Congress is enacted.

So that leaves the matter of purchases Vermonters make when they cross the border to shop.

Paying a use tax on those items will continue to depend on an honor system that hasn’t yielded much money for state coffers.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, more and more soldiers continue to come back home to Vermont.

For some, the search for employment and housing  is a major hurdle. A group called Leadership Upper Valley recently hosted a town meeting style event designed to help ease veterans’ re-entry.

In the audience at the elegant Quechee Club were many well-dressed community leaders who listened to a panel of military experts, including Major Christina Fanitzi.

Hazelett Strip Casting is a Colchester company  that makes massive machines which help turn molten metal into rolls and sheets. Hazelett is clearly in the manufacturing business.   So is Sean Lawson who makes his award winning beer, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, in a brewery located next to his home.  The food production part of Vermont’s manufacturing sector, which includes Lawson's Finest, is having great success competing globally and contributing to Vermont’s economic growth.  

Toby Talbot / AP

After a disappointing first quarter earnings report, IBM announced there will be layoffs in the second quarter.  The company says most of the job cuts would take place outside the U.S. but in recent days there have been rumors that cuts are imminent at domestic IBM facilities, including in Vermont.

Despite the fact IBM employs fewer people than it once did at the Essex Junction plant, IBM's fortunes are still important to the state’s job picture and its economy.   

This week is Way To Go Week,  and Vermonters are being encouraged to carpool or use mass transit to get to work.

That’s become easier in recent years with the expansion of commuter bus service. But connecting by bus to more distant points is a  problem. 

Now the state has a plan to make it easier for Vermonters to catch an intercity bus., which are busses that either carry passengers to a large population center or connect lines that serve regional cities.   

VPR/Steve Zind

The shortage of qualified workers is a problem that’s become increasingly urgent for manufacturers across the country and in Vermont.

For years technical programs at high schools have been teaching basic skills, but the specialized needs of modern manufacturers demand more specialized training and an approach customized to individual manufacturers.  

For Velan Valve Corporation the problem finding machinists became evident a few years back. 

Whenever the company advertised an opening  there were lots of applicants but no one was qualified.

Amtrak’s northbound Vermonter leaves Washington D.C.’s Union Station shortly after 8 in the morning.  For the first several hours the view from the window provides a fascinating study of the sheer volume and variety of litter and industrial detritus that lies behind urban factory yards and warehouses.

Buoyed by plentiful snow and good weather, Northeast ski resorts rebounded this past winter from a lackluster 2012 season that was plagued by lack of snow and high temperatures.

The National Ski Areas Association says ski areas in New England and New York had 13.3 million skier and snowboarder visits this winter. That's a 20 percent increase over last winter.

David Behany, of Brewer, Maine, says it was one of the best years he's seen in his 45 years of skiing. He says he skied nearly 60 days at Sugarloaf and his wife went 89 times.

“We have promised to have high speed internet access to every last mile by the end of 2013,”  declared Governor Peter Shumlin at a December, 2012 news conference.  It's a statement he's made numerous times.

Today, state officials are still promising that by the end of the year all Vermonters will have access to broadband internet.

As broadband has become more widely available, the state has continued to focus on those places with no high speed Internet in order to reach its goal.

Lawmakers and Gov. Peter Shumlin have very different views about how taxes affect the economy.

The governor remains adamantly opposed to the tax bills passed by both the House and Senate. He underscored his resistance again at his weekly news conference Thursday.

“It’s always tougher for this Legislature to take existing money and spend it more wisely, than it is to turn to taxpayers and say, ‘Hey, we’re just going to dig into your pockets for more loot,’” he said.

House and Senate negotiators will soon begin working on a compromise version of the 2014 budget. One of many differences between them is how the state workforce that administers the welfare-to-work program would be affected.

The Vermont State Employees’ Association said on Thursday that the Senate budget would save the jobs of case managers that administer the program known as “Reach Up.”

The Small Business Administration recently held meetings in Waterbury and Wilmington, the Vermont towns that experienced the most serious damage to their business districts when Tropical Storm Irene hit.

Homeowners can qualify grants to help pay the costs of Irene repairs.  There is little grant money available to businesses, so many sought disaster assistance loans.

Young women in Vermont are ill-equipped and not prepared for the challenges of economic independence and adulthood---and that’s what they say about themselves.

A new report released this week by Vermont Works for Women draws on interviews with over 200 women between the ages of 15 and 25. Vermont Works for Women Executive Director Tiffany Bluemle says there are a number of things that these young women, most of limited financial means, pointed to as obstacles to success.

The Vermont Senate is expected to pass legislation to reduce unemployment insurance costs for two groups of businesses — those forced to lay people off and close after natural disasters, and newspaper publishers.

The Senate voted 18-10 on Tuesday to support a bill designed to alleviate the financial hit taken by businesses that were forced to close by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene. Many laid off workers as a result, and later saw their unemployment insurance premiums rise sharply.