Smith wants to build communities, keep young people in Vermont

MIDDLEBURY — As Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith looks at the tasks ahead for Vermont government, the candidate for lieutenant governor said one of the keys to future prosperity is giving young people more reasons to stay here.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Addison Independent on Tuesday, the Morrisville Democrat said that keepingcommunities vital is something the state will need to figure out, in order to stem the flow of its youth to other states following high school or college.

“A lot of the rural states are having the same problem,” Smith said.

The key, he believes, is courting Vermont students before they matriculate.

Smith said almost three-quarters of Champlain College’s enrollment is made up of out-of-state students. More than 50 percent of those out-of-state students land their first job in Vermont, according to Smith.

“A lot of that has to do with the fact that they have mandatory internships,” he said. “I think we have the (youth) population here; we just need to figure out a way to retain it.”

Part of the answer, Smith believes, is as simple as employers letting impending graduates know of job opportunities. State government and area chambers of commerce could help in making those connections, Smith believes.

“That (college student) population is right there,” he said. “Grab it.”

And Smith added the state and successful entrepreneurs could do more to encourage graduates to think about creating new jobs for themselves. This is something playing out currently at incubator spaces such as at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies in Middlebury.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Vermont was the focus of a “back to the land” movement that attracted many new, young residents.

“I don’t think today’s generation is looking for a back-to-the-land movement,” Smith said. “I think they are now looking for ‘back to the downtown.’ They want to have spaces where they can live, walk and work. We need to put even more resources into revitalizing some of these downtowns.”

He cited Winooski, St. Albans, Rutland and Brattleboro as examples of downtown revitalization efforts that are paying dividends.

“If you create vibrant downtowns, there are spaces that people will be attracted to,” Smith said.

If elected lieutenant governor, Smith said, he would work to “super-charge” the state’s current downtown revitalization programs.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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Addison County Independent

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