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.

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.

VPR/Steve Zind

The view that economic growth improves our lives is the opinion of a the vast majority economists and the general public. 

But for nearly two hours Wednesday afternoon, those who question the benefits of growth got equal time.

If the idea of four University of Vermont professors debating economic growth sounds sleep inducing – it was dispelled by the informal title of the debate:  “The Rumble in the Econ Jungle”.  

This was an energetic and entertaining event for the benefit of the crowd of students who came in out of the sunshine to listen.

While Governor Peter Shumlin hails the recent drop in Vermont's unemployment rate, the numbers behind the 4.1% figure are raising concerns.  That's because the size of the state's labor force continues to shrink. 

Dollar General Continues Vermont Expansion

Apr 23, 2013

Based on the number of stores it operates, Dollar General is the largest discount retailer in the country. According to the company’s 2012 annual report, hundreds of new stores were opened last year.  It's also clear that Dollar General has found a home in Vermont. 

VPR/Ric Cengeri

CSAs have been a popular tool for local farmers to receive much needed funding at the beginning of the growing season. For consumers anxious to support local agriculture, it’s a good way to invest AND share in the harvest.

The only problem is, which CSA is right for you?

Now there’s a CSA matchmaker run by Champlain Valley Localsourcers. Their organizer, Luc Reid, explains  how they plan to make the marriage between CSA farm and CSA participant.

A committee of the Vermont Senate is expected to complete work this week on a revenue bill that would limit how much a homeowner could deduct for mortgage interest when filing state income taxes.

Finance Committee Chairman Tim Ashe says the committee is looking at a range of possible caps, from $10,000 to $15,000 in how much could be deducted from taxable income.

AP/Toby Talbot

It’s kale versus chicken, David versus Goliath.

For months, a Vermont folk artist who prints ‘Eat More Kale’ t-shirts above his garage in Montpelier has been trapped in a legal battle with a fast food chain whose slogan is “Eat Mor' Chikin'.”

Officials from Vermont’s largest banks are speaking out against a Shumlin Administration tax proposal.

The bankers warn that a proposed hike in the bank franchise tax could slow down lending or lead to possible lay-offs.

The tax plan was put on the table by Gov. Peter Shumlin as he tries to strike a compromise with the Legislature to fund state government without raising broad-based taxes. Administration officials last week proposed a hike in the franchise tax paid by the state’s five largest banks.

Vermont officials say some hard-to-reach parts of the state will soon have cell phone coverage thanks to the successful test of a new system.

For Vermont cell phone users reception difficulties stem from two problems:

First, the terrain which often blocks the signals from cell phone towers. 

The second reason is economic. 

Herb Swanson

In about a year, two new foreign companies expect to be operating in Newport at the site of a former skiwear manufacturer. AnC Bio, a Korean bio-tech firm, and Menck Windows, a German company, are the centerpiece of a $600 million economic development initiative promising to bring 10,000 jobs to the Northeast Kingdom. Chief executives from those two companies gave progress reports in Newport Thursday. 

The CEOs of the two foreign companies that promise to bring more than 600 new jobs to Newport visited the future site of their operations Thursday in the lakefront building formerly occupied by Bogner ski wear. 

Dr. Ike Lee, president of the Korean bio-tech firm AnC Bio, announced a partnership with UVM to help recruit scientifically trained researchers.

Steve Zind / VPR

Dollar General and Family Dollar both have plans to expand the number of stores in Vermont. Opponents say the stores are a bigger threat to small towns than big box stores.

Residents in South Hero are organizing to fight a proposed dollar store in their community.  They join a number of towns where there is opposition to proposals to build the small box stores.

Two national chains, Dollar General and Family Dollar, have established a number of new stores in Vermont in recent years.

The Vermont Telecommunications Authority has been awarded a $1.6 million federal grant to expand cellular phone service and provide wireless internet in areas hit by flooding in 2011. 

The disaster relief grant from the U.S. Department of Economic Development will help pay for expansion of cell service along 120 miles of roadway in five Vermont counties including Addison, Essex, Washington, Windham and Windsor counties.

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