May 27, 2007

Burlington Free Press.com | Opinion

Burlington Free Press.com Opinion:

Kevin Dorn, Secretary of Commerce and Community Development, outlines in this opinion piece some recommendations from a recent report probing the question of why so many young people are leaving Vermont.

These are lofty recommendations but they fail to identify the root causes of the problems. How does Vermont foster a different business climate when our state's current Legislature generally believes that small business is 'good' and big business is 'bad' or a target for unfair taxes? Our Legislative leadership believes that weeks of 'education' about global warming is worthwhile then ends their session by targeting an energy efficiency tax at an already efficient, low cost provider of electricity. The basic message delivered to Entergy and other businesses is: If you are successfully profitable, we will find a way to tax those profits so that we can spend your gains on causes we believe are more worthy. That is not a business-friendly message.

I'm afraid our economic development goals conflict radically with the underlying anti-business beliefs held by many people and reflected in our elected legislators. If the Legislature were serious about developing a pro-business climate, it would spend its energy and efforts to reduce, not increase, taxes on businesses and individuals. The best way for people to create and grow businesses is to let them keep more money that they've earned rather than taxing them to pay for the escalating costs of social services.

I'm afraid that the report's recommendations cited by Mr. Dorn are more eye wash than substance. Until we are willing to fix the underlying policies creating higher costs of doing business and working in Vermont, people will continue to vote with their feet. We were successful in attracting business in the past with the highly successful legislation that attracted the captive insurance industry to Vermont. Have we forgotten that lesson?

"The challenge is to connect with those young people who are ready to 'buy' our product and then make it affordable for them.

While we have an opportunity to reach out to this population, we must also make policy decisions that bend the affordability curve to convince them they can live here.

The report's recommendations include:

Fostering a business climate that will allow employers to pay higher wages jobs and create more opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Reducing the cost of housing for working Vermonters,

Starting a targeted marketing campaign to actively attract people living outside Vermont.

Connecting college students to employment opportunities and working with business to better connect them to educational institutions.

These recommendations form the basis for our plan of action. We now know that Vermont is already a place where young people want to live, work, and raise families.

But it must become a place where they can afford to do so. Our future -- a Vermont of prosperous cities, small towns and villages, and farms on a working landscape -- depends on it.

Kevin Dorn of Essex Junction is Vermont's secretary of commerce and community development "
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