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Pro-business culture needed

This the fifth in a series of opinion pieces discussing a proposal for Middlebury to create a fund that promotes economic development.
Fred Baser co-founded Bristol Financial Services in 1990. He is a past selectman in Bristol, a justice of the peace, chairman of the town’s Revolving Loan Fund Committee and a longtime member of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center board.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in a discussion on the economic development fund proposed for Middlebury. As an area businessperson and as a co-founder of the Addison County Economic Development Corp., I have strong feelings on this subject. My letter supports your sentiments concerning the importance of economic development in the area, enforces Vermont’s ability to welcome such development, and includes some suggestions as to what we can do to foster positive economic growth.
First, Vermont is a wonderful place to live and make a living. We enjoy four-season recreational activities; Vermont’s public schools earn good grades; our work force has a deserved reputation for solid work ethics; our environment is clean and beautiful; there is a strong sense of community in our towns and villages; and housing can be affordable, especially if compared to metro areas.
Economic development deserves an important place on Middlebury’s, the county’s and the state’s agenda because of a general trend in recent years of losing high-paying manufacturing jobs, the aging of Vermont’s population, and the approval of public policies by the people of Vermont that increase our financial obligations — most notably in health care and education.
Unless we can grow our economy in a meaningful way we risk choices like further increases in our tax burden, and/or reducing our financial commitment to programs that exist. Just to keep up with inflation, we need annual economic growth in the 3- to 5-percent range, and with the prospects of more Vermonters retiring than coming into the work force our future well-being is at risk. What can we do to foster increased wealth among our citizenry?
The spirit that is demonstrated in the recent developments by the Middlebury business community, Middlebury College and hopefully the taxpayers is a wonderful start to encourage an attitude and culture that will spur economic growth. This issue, however, is not just a Middlebury one. It should be a priority for the state and the state can and needs to assist Addison County and all of Vermont in this effort. To increase jobs and economic growth we also need more economic freedom. Increasingly over the last several decades, we have seen an erosion of economic freedom.
What is economic freedom? To borrow the definition of John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods Market, the principals of economic freedom include property rights, freedom of trade, minimal governmental regulation of business, sound money, relatively low taxes, the rule of law, entrepreneurship, the freedom to fail and voluntary exchange. To provide greater economic freedom to Vermonters and future Vermonters there are actions our legislators, with our support, can take.
These actions include slowing the growth of spending in public education pre-K through grade 12, reconsider the state’s commitment to a single-payer health plan, control the creep in increased taxation and look into acting on some of the recent Blue Ribbon Panel’s tax study’s recommendations, consider revisions to act 250 that retain the state’s intentions yet allow greater ease for economic growth. Act 250 could also state that well-designed employment and wealth developing projects are for the public good and deserve consideration as such. Additionally, electric transmission lines and the proposed natural gas pipeline should be fast-tracked, and that housing developments, especially moderate-cost homes, should be permitted outside of village centers with all housing projects being required to contain an affordable housing element.
Developing a culture in Vermont that supports business and, as a result, job growth is important to the state’s economic health. It is great Middlebury appreciates this fact. Let us hope the feeling is contagious.

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