Chittenden County has a vibrant economy. Owing to the heroic efforts of local businesses small, medium, and large, we weathered the Great Recession and continue to be a place where innovation and initiative are rewarded. We need to continue to build on the solid economic foundation that is in place. That success requires an appreciation of the role government can play in support of private sector activity. It also requires a deep understanding of economic development in Chittenden County itself. (See below to learn more about my private sector economic development experience.)
PUBLIC SECTOR EFFORTS IN SUPPORT OF LOCAL BUSINESSES
Though I no longer serve on the Senate’s Economic Development Committee, I continue to advance legislation that supports a strong economy. These are some highlights from the 2014 session.
- 10% for Vermont Economic Development – Co-authored language, which became law in Act 199, that allows the State Treasurer to transfer up to 10% of the state’s cash balance to VEDA to deploy as economic development assistance in the form of low cost financing to Vermont businesses. While this can boost our economy, it also gives the State more control over its investments.
- Legacy Insurance – Vermont’s Next Economic Development Niche? – Vermont is the nation’s leading home to captive insurance companies. Every year, representatives from Vermont-domiciled captives come from all over the country to herald Vermont’s approach to captives. Dedicated and knowledgeable state staff, plus strict regulatory rules that inspire confidence in the market, have made Vermont the gold standard in the industry. This year the Senate Finance Committee, which I chair, passed the Legacy Insurance Management Act, with the hopes that we may foster a similar niche industry in the state. Legacy insurance means closed blocks of insurance policies, or groups of policies that are no longer being sold but still need to be managed because the policyholders are entitled to benefits. Once again relying on strict regulatory rules, the new law has tremendous upside for the state’s economy and coffers.
- Downtown and Village Tax Credits – Co-authored the annual tax bill that included a significant expansion of the Downtown and Village Credit program which provides incentives for the renovation of historic downtown buildings that have seen better days. These awards are granted from the largest communities to the smallest villages.
- Economic Development Districts – Authored and was lead sponsor on S.37, which became law as Act 80, which resolved historical issues with Tax Increment Financing Districts and allowed economic development activities to proceed in Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski, Milton, and other Vermont municipalities.
- Beer and Wine Tastings – Introduced S .181, which became law as Act 202, which makes it legal for bars and restaurants to serve sampler flites of beer, wine and distilled beverages. Yes, this was actually illegal before!
- Seed Capital Fund – makes state equity investments in growth stage businesses
- VEDA Tech Loan Fund – provides loans to tech-related businesses that have trouble attracting conventional bank financing
- Vermont Jobs Funds – capitalized this VEDA program to allow more lending during recession
- Supported investments in Microbusiness Development for early-stage small businesses
- Farm to Plate Program – Helped secure initial funding for this statewide agriculture enterprise planning
- Benefit Corporations – this new type of Vermont corporation permits a business to factor considerations other than merely profit in its business decisions
- Downtown and Village Credit Program – successfully increased this important downtown development resource which has been used by Burlington businesses
- Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund – Served as a Senate negotiator to find balanced solution to state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund insolvency
- Burlington Aviation Tech Center – Helped secure funds to support this training facility which has a 100% job placement history
- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Hiring Incentive Program – this hiring incentive program will stimulate hiring in these fields
- Long-term Unemployed Hiring Incentive Program – this program aims to bring long-term unemployed Vermonters back into the workforce
- State Purchasing Initiative – Wrote language to increase State of Vermont purchases from in-state businesses
- Dept. of Labor Self-Employment Initiative – this innovative program allows unemployed Vermonters to enroll in approved business start-up programs in lieu of the traditional job search while collecting UI benefits
Each of these initiatives has benefited Chittenden County and the state’s economy.
A CAREER IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
I’ve been grateful to work at South Burlington’s Cathedral Square for more than seven years. Cathedral Square is Vermont’s primary developer, owner, and manager of affordable senior housing. Most of our work has been in Chittenden County. Working with my colleagues, I created or renovated 396 affordable senior housing apartments. The combined budgets of this work totals more than $30 million, funded by private and public sources. At a time when our economy badly needed a boost, I was proud to secure competitive and scarce funds to put hundreds of people to work and meet the obvious housing needs of our community’s seniors. In Burlington, I led the “green retrofit” of Cathedral Square Senior Living, also known as Three Cathedral Square. The energy-based improvements are saving tens of thousands annually in reduced gas and electric use. In addition, we successfully installed a 153 panel, 36 kw rooftop photovoltaic system. Also in Burlington, we worked with New North End community members to develop a plan to create a mixed income, multi age neighborhood behind the former DMV on North Avenue. CSC’s 69 total apartments have the double value of creating safe, affordable homes for New North End seniors while freeing up some homes for potential first-time homebuyers. I also worked on development projects in Essex, South Burlington, St. Albans, and Shelburne.