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Homegrown economics

Posted September 22, 2006

In recent weeks, we’ve seen some of Gov. Jim Douglas’ business acumen at work.

He dispatched Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Kevin Dorn to Boston to meet with Boston-based reporters and business relocation consultants with plans to return before year’s end to pitch business leaders.

The pitch? To have Massachusetts-based firms move their companies and jobs north to the Green Mountain State.

According to a Boston Globe article, Dorn and Douglas will also be hosting several après-ski events this winter at some of the state’s top resorts in hopes that second homeowners from Massachusetts will relocate to Vermont, businesses and all.

What’s interesting is how the pitch was played in the Globe article. You would think that Vermont’s business climate was top-notch, as it was cited for its “relative lack of red tape.”

This can’t be the same Vermont that is unaffordable for people to live in, and all but deadly for businesses to grow and expand, thanks to its burdensome state and local land use regulations. At least, so Douglas and others have been saying this year in support of his so-called “affordability agenda.”

First, let’s be reminded that spending tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars on recruiting businesses from out of state is a fool’s errand.

According to one analyst, 103 businesses moved to Vermont from Massachusetts between 1990 and 2004. But 63 businesses moved from Vermont to Massachusetts during the same period, for a net gain of 40 businesses in 15 years.

In recent years, 98 percent of all jobs created came either from expanding businesses or from startup companies. That means a measly 2 percent came from businesses moving to Vermont from elsewhere.

It was also ironic to note all the crowing from Douglas and other officials about a recent tax credit given to a Canadian firm to move to Vermont and begin making biodiesel in Franklin County.

Several entrepreneurs in Vermont already have been doing that and have been working on building their market share. Now their tax dollars are being used to subsidize out-of-state competition.

Vermont’s small businesses are the true engine of Vermont’s economy, and that is where we should continue to invest resources, not on giveaway programs and fancy marketing gimmicks that are designed to counter the image that many top officials continue to portray — that Vermont is not welcome to businesses.

We need to do more for the businesses in Vermont that are already giving back to their communities as they struggle to remain part of the Green Mountain landscape.

Three for all

You are holding the first issue of our third year publishing the Vermont Guardian. At times along the way since that first issue hit the streets on Sept. 24, 2004, it wasn’t clear we’d make it this far.

We have, but not without some sacrifices and some hard lessons learned. We survived the startup “terrible twos,” although we’re still on what seems like a rollercoaster from month to month.

We have a lot to be thankful for — an incredible staff, investors who have stuck with us despite that we didn’t always live up to their expectations, several angels along the way, key advertisers who took a chance with us early on and have stuck with us, and of course the thousands of readers we’ve been able to reach daily on the web and thousands more in print each week.

To ensure we’ll be around to celebrate year four, we are embarking on a new effort to get more people to subscribe to either to the print edition of the Guardian or the unique online subscription we offer. You’ll see a special form on page 16 that describes what you can do to help us reach more Vermonters.

The response over the past three years has been encouraging. We’re not done trying new things, and we’ll be rolling out new web-based projects in the coming months, and hope you’ll provide us with your own ideas of what you think we need to be doing, or not doing.

We continue to remain bullish on our own future and the future of independent media in Vermont.

We offer a unique perspective on Vermont, its place in the nation and the world, and a view into Vermont for those outside our borders who look to us for leadership in so many areas.