Letter in Vermont Journal
Many thanks to the Editor of the Vermont Journal for publishing my Letter to the Editor in the June 15th edition. The text of the entire article follows inline below. Enjoy!
Vermont has an identity problem.
Vermonters need to decide what they want their state to be, circa 2016.
We now live in a state, a country, and a world where many of the social,
political, and economic systems we’ve come to rely on for three
generations have been rapidly changing since the end of the Cold War.
Historically, Vermont was always a poor state with little to no economic
opportunity outside of farming and tourism. That changed in the
1940’s through 1960’s, when the machine tool industry centered around
Springfield was paying more than 20% of the real wages in the entire
state. With the gutting of US industry beginning in the late 1970’s,
Vermont was left with joblessness and the crumbling factories you can
still see falling into the Connecticut River.
That leads us to today, where Vermont is a microcosm of the economic
disparity that has befallen the country at large. It reminds me a lot of
where I grew up in South Florida in the early 1980’s: small pockets of
intense wealth, interspersed throughout larger areas of varying degrees
of economic opportunity. Much of the wealth was brought in from out of
state, as it is here in Vermont, as is much of the population seasonal.
Most of the locals who stuck around all year were either successful
professionals, or serviced the wealthy in some form – pools, hurricane
shutters, landscaping, sprinklers, AC, you name it. In Vermont, it’s the
same phenomenon, but because the state is so small,
there’s less and less opportunity to go around. As for skiing and
tourism, both lucrative industries in their own right, they’re too
weather-contingent and pay relatively low wages.
Many solutions for spurring economic growth have been proposed up in
Montpelier, from “more education,” to “better Internet,” to “more solar
initiatives.” Yet, when push comes to shove, the only thing that will
make a real difference for working class Vermonters will be providing
access to secure jobs that pay livable wages. Will this just be a state
for people with means to come and create their own “sustainable
utopias,” or a place where real working class Vermonters can earn an
honest living and raise their families in dignity?
Ideally, it has to be both. That’s the real heavy lifting that has to be
done in the Legislature. The gap between the two camps is growing larger
by the day.
Sometime soon, it will become impossible to persuade the guy who’s lived
here all his life and works two jobs that he should remain in the
state, even though his property taxes and cost of living have become
Implementing a state-wide plan of “green-powered” industry – to both
draw livable-wage jobs back to Vermont, and serve as a successful
blueprint for industrial models around the country – should be priority
#1 for anyone elected to this office. The “Precision Valley Region” was
once home to the most advanced machine tool industry the world had ever
seen. The knowledge base is still here – just ask many of the guys in
their 50’s and 60’s working the big box stores – as are the rivers that
once powered the factories. Advanced hydroelectric/solar/wind-powered
factories making high tech-industrial goods that pay Vermonters good
wages to do so would jump start local economies, increase the tax base,
and establish a real â€œsustainableâ€ future for Vermont.
There are now ways to do industry – just ask the Germans, or the
Chinese, who are developing such technology out of necessity – where the
externalities are very minimal, where we’re not dumping raw industrial
waste into the Connecticut River. Vermont has already made great
advances in alternative energy, so why not use that knowledge base to
help design the factories of the future, right here in the U.S., instead
of making everything in Asia and Mexico? You could, with the right
incentives, but perception is the problem…”we don’t do that here.”
The same applies to my plan for implementing legislation to lure
New England firearms manufacturers to the state. Since its founding,
Vermont has been a bastion of gun rights, although recent debates on the
issue suggest otherwise. Why let Smith & Wesson, Remington, Colt, and
Ruger decamp to southern states with developed gun cultures and
legislatures willing to provide tax-based incentives, when they could in
some cases move 150 miles or less across the border into Vermont. Again,
only perception is the problem.
Ultimately, restoring Vermont’s economy begins with a rethinking of
Vermont’s place in an America with increasingly uncertain economic
prospects for large segments of its population. For in the long run, the
notion of “sustainability” must be for all Vermonters, not just those
who can afford it.
Candidate State Rep Windsor-5 (R)