Vermont is a business-friendly state — but not in the traditional sense

A free-market solution wouldn’t have cleaned up after the damage of Tropical Storm Irene

PUTNEY — At the recent Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast, the question came up: “What is the Legislature doing for business?”

Because I had to work at my “paying job,” I was unable to attend. If I had, I would have had lots to report.

• First of all, we are working together with a governor on a shared agenda: to maintain a balanced budget, to keep our unemployment rate one of the lowest in the nation, and to continue rebuilding our infrastructure after the double whammy of neglect during the Great Recession and the devastating damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

(For those espousing free-market solutions and less government, we're still waiting to hear how the free market helped us out of the recession and cleaned up after the floods.)

What would downtown business look like with Flat Street still full of mud, or Route 9 between Brattleboro and Bennington still a fragmented, impassible highway across southern Vermont?

What would our neighbors to the west in Wilmington have done without the governor and the Legislature - and FEMA - working in concert to help rebuild the devastation in their flood-ravaged towns?

• Together with the governor, we are keeping our unemployment rate low, we are creating supports that help businesses grow, and we are creating jobs.

We are leading the nation in green jobs. For those of us who believe global climate change is real and needs to be addressed, these jobs promote economic growth in an environmentally friendly way.

• Our Working Lands bill has been supporting the role of agriculture - dairy and diverse other agricultural efforts. Agriculture continues to thrive in Vermont and is creating jobs that will take us into a more food-secure future, with local produce and value-added products.

• In concert with the administration, we are addressing the crisis that the health-insurance companies dumped on us by charging higher and higher premiums while delivering fewer and fewer benefits. Along with the federal Affordable Care Act, Green Mountain Care is meeting our goals of controlling costs, increasing access, and eventually providing better outcomes.

• We are again maintaining a balanced budget: one that doesn't raise broad-based taxes, yet still maintains our commitment to our Vermont neighbors in need - children, disabled, elderly.

• And, right here in downtown Brattleboro, if not for the governor and his team working in close accord with the team of local investors, the Brooks House would still be languishing and dragging down the rest of the downtown with it. The governor has strongly encouraged Vermont Technical College and Vermont Community College to move to the Brooks House as anchor tenants for the project.

• The collaboration between the governor and Legislature has also provided ongoing support for affordable workforce housing for a new generation and land conservation for generations to come.

• And, let's not forget the River Garden and the Latchis Theatre. Imagine where they would be without the support from state funding, from the governor, and from the Legislature.

* * *

For those who might dismiss these efforts, just try to imagine what the local economy would look like without this support from state government.

Many of us in the Legislature use the lens of the triple bottom line in assessing our progress. Along with profit and loss, we are mindful of the social/environmental impact of our policies and practices.

That's also why many of us align with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility more so than we do with the traditional Chamber of Commerce. While the Vermont Chamber of Commerce still has more members at 1,500 statewide, VBSR is growing steadily and gaining, and it now has more than 1,000 members statewide.

That's why when we are asked what we are doing for business, our answer is about more than jobs and profits. Our answer includes the measures we are taking to protect our environment and provide the social services and arts that add to the quality of life.

All of these efforts, and more, create fertile ground for maintaining a local economy - and growing it into the future.

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