New law aims to keep and attract jobs to Vermont

<p> WINOOSKI &mdash; According to Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont needs more people like Kyle Munderville, 30 years old and employed by the online retailer MyWebGrocer in Winooski. Munderville graduated from Colgate University in 2011 with degrees in psychology and music and, after working for a short while in New York City, she came to Vermont to pursue a higher quality of life and lower costs.</p><p> To Shumlin, Munderville&rsquo;s story is an example of what the future of business in Vermont could look like: young professionals heading to the Green Mountain State to pursue careers at exciting new businesses.</p><p> Attracting and keeping more jobs in the state was the focus of a bill that Shumlin signed into law on June 24.</p><p> Flanked by supporters and key architects of the bill, Shumlin signed the document in front of reporters as well employees of MyWebGrocer at company headquarters in downtown Winooski &mdash; and handed Munderville one of the pens used for the occasion.</p><p> Among other things, the law creates the Vermont Enterprise Fund, a $4.5 million pool of money earmarked to retain and attract major employers in technology, research and design fields. The fund is temporary and would be paid with surplus revenue available at the end of the previous fiscal year.</p><p> Additionally, the law allocates $500,000 from the general fund, combined with $1 million in federal funding, to create the Entrepreneurial Lending Program. The fund will be available to startups that lack credit.</p><p> The third component of the law, which Shumlin described, is the establishment of the Vermont Strong Scholars Program. The program, completed in partnership with the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, will repay a year&rsquo;s tuition of a bachelor&rsquo;s degree over five years or the last semester of a two-year associate&rsquo;s degree at Vermont colleges, when students take Vermont-based jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.</p><p> At the June 24 bill signing, Shumlin highlighted the growth of companies in those fields around the state, including MyWebGrocer, Dealer.Com, Global-Z and others.</p><p> &ldquo;We need more stories like them,&rdquo; he said of those companies. &ldquo;And we will have them with the good work in this bill.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p> Speaker of the Vermont House Shap Smith also spoke in favor of the bill.</p><p> &ldquo;There are a lot of things that make a successful economy and create jobs, but really it&rsquo;s about investments in our businesses, in our infrastructure and our people,&rdquo; Smith said. &ldquo;And if we make investments like those, we know we&rsquo;re going to have a chance to be successful.&rdquo;</p><p> In addition to incentives for businesses and students, S.220 includes upgrades to existing programs in other areas well. Vermont&rsquo;s Downtown and Village Center Tax Credit Program will expand to include technology upgrades as eligible projects and a new domestic export program for agricultural and forest products will be established in conjunction with the state&rsquo;s &ldquo;Made in Vermont&rdquo; designation program.</p><p> In the area of telecommunications, the law streamlines permitting processes for certain telecommunications projects, allowing them to work through the Public Service Board for a Certificate of Public Good instead of applying for Act 250 and municipal permits.</p><p> The law also includes provisions for affordable housing, often cited by businesses as a common obstacle to maintaining a steady workforce in Vermont. S.220 reduces the range of housing projects that require Act 250 environmental permitting and establishes tiers of &ldquo;priority housing&rdquo; that allow a community to access modified Act 250 procedures.&nbsp;</p><p> Responding to questions, Shumlin said the administration has not established criteria for how the $4.5 million would be allocated or a way to hold recipients accountable.</p><p> Shumlin also declined to say whether the fund would be used to give incentives to the state&rsquo;s largest employer &mdash; IBM &mdash;to stay in Vermont. With at least 4,000 jobs at its Essex plant, IBM&rsquo;s chip-making division is rumored to be up for sale to GlobalFoundries, an Emirate of Abu Dhabi company.</p><p> &ldquo;My feeling would be let&rsquo;s figure out what is going to happen &mdash; if anything &mdash; and then let&rsquo;s determine what we can do to throw everything at it, keeping chip-making and really high-paid, really important jobs in Vermont,&rdquo; Shumlin said.</p><p> With an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent &mdash; the second lowest in the country, Vermont is also confronted with an aging workforce and an uncertain future for Vermont&rsquo;s largest tech employer. Shumlin emphasized the timeliness of the new law, but acknowledged a lack of a guarantee for success.</p><p> &ldquo;There&rsquo;s no such thing as insurance when you&rsquo;re in the job creation business,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;What you can do is make the very best judgments that you can and work with your partners to make it a success.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p>

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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