Community Forum: It’s time to celebrate Vermont’s innovations
When we think of what is “Made in Vermont” we often think of sharp cheddar, craft IPAs, and fancy-grade maple syrup. What may not come to mind as quickly? A new wave of Vermont-manufactured products that use technology so innovative it is changing the world.
That transdermal patch your doctor prescribed? There’s a good chance it was made in St. Albans by global health care company Mylan Technologies, which recently announced a major facility expansion. The Ever-Led light tube you just installed to save energy? Built by LED Dynamics in Randolph. That smart phone you are carrying? Most likely powered by microelectronics created in Essex Junction by IBM.
While people around the globe are familiar with Burton’s snowboards, Green Mountain Coffee’s K-Cups and Concept2’s rowing machines, many Vermonters are unaware of the thousands of other innovative products created in our state.
In Bennington, Kaman Composites makes the outer case for a “cooler” of sorts that can transport a human heart or other organs destined for a transplant. In Arlington, Mack Molding makes everything from solar-powered streetlights to automated milkshake machines. White River Junction’s Sound Innovation helps military air crews preserve their hearing with noise-reduction earplugs. In Brattleboro, ROV Technology engineers the underwater robots that service nuclear reactors.
Gov. Shumlin has proclaimed Friday, Oct. 4, “National Manufacturing Day” in Vermont, noting our state is “home to many great manufacturing businesses, many of which are world leaders in their fields.”
That’s not surprising considering that the modern machine shop came to life here in the 1820s, in the town of Windsor. “Precision Valley,” as the Springfield/Windsor section of the Connecticut River valley became known, pioneered what the British called the “American system of manufacturing,” using division of labor, mechanized production and a new business system of networks that paired engineers and entrepreneurs, craftsmen and mechanics.
Today, Vermont’s manufacturing landscape is totally different but equally innovative. Small, technologically sophisticated companies rely on skilled workers, extensive supply chains and global markets. Facilities are state-of-the-art and environments are clean, modern and often eco-friendly. Vermont now has more than 1,000 manufacturing firms with 60 percent employing fewer than 10. About 31,000 Vermonters work in manufacturing, or about 10 percent of the total workforce — earning wages 36 percent above the statewide average. Manufacturing alone contributes 11.1 percent of Vermont’s Gross Domestic Product.
As more and more people discover the value (and values) associated with a product that is “made in Vermont,” that number will grow. Already, we are seeing some shifts that buck the national trend toward moving manufacturing offshore. Consider Cabot Hosiery, which has made a name by kitting Darn Tough socks so durable they come with a lifetime guarantee. Or Vermont Castings, which announced last Friday it would be consolidating its grill manufacturing (some of which is done outside of the U.S.) back here in Randolph. “We believe in Vermont,” said Vermont Casting’s new CFO, Jacob Reuben, a former New York financial adviser who helped transition the company to employee ownership this past summer. “There’s a brand here that you just can’t duplicate. ‘Made in Vermont,’ that means something. It means quality.”
50 Innovations Made In Vermont.?To highlight some of the great things made in our state, the Vermont Department of Economic Development has created a list of 50 Innovations Made in Vermont, available at ThinkVermont.com. It is a list of just a few of the innovative products, designs and technology we produce. It’s a list we hope to add to each year and we invite you to share your thoughts and nominations on our Vermont Economic Development Facebook page.
MEET THE MANUFACTURERS
You can also celebrate this Friday, as many Vermont manufacturers ranging from Burlington’s Burton to the North Hartland Tool Company to Middlebury’s Danforth Pewter will open their doors to the public. For more information on these and other events, visit www.mfgday.com or contact the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center, vmec.org). In the Bennington area, teachers in math, science and other STEM programs have already made it part of their curriculum to visit the area’s industries. Take some time to show yourself or your children what “Made in Vermont” can mean. Show them the possibilities. Show them the future.
Lisa Gosselin is commissioner of the Department of Economic Development for the state of Vermont.
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