Proposed law looks to jumpstart ‘new economy’ companies in Vt.

MIDDLEBURY — Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, has co-authored legislation he believes will inject new vitality into Vermont’s business sector without spending a lot of new money.
It’s known as H.736 — dubbed “Unlocking Vermont’s Economic Potential” bill — aimed at protecting and growing Vermont’s current industries, while encouraging and rewarding entrepreneurs and innovators in new technology and knowledge-based businesses, according to Ralston.
“Now is the time for bold, strategic initiatives that fan the sparks of ‘new economy’ entrepreneurship in Vermont while helping our important legacy industries improve their competitive position in regional markets,” reads a preamble to the bill, drafted by Ralston and Rep. Heidi Sheuermann, R-Stowe.
Specifically, the legislation outlines more than a dozen economic development initiatives that call for a combined total of $85,000 in new state funds, according to Ralston. Those initiatives include:
•  Creation of a “One-Stop Shop” for spawning new businesses in Vermont. Ralston said the current structure for setting up and registering a business is “extremely complicated,” with bureaucratic hoops through which Vermonters must jump. That red tape, according to Ralston, can discourage and sometimes mislead entrepreneurs. H.736 sets up a process through which individuals can set up their businesses seamlessly through the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. And Ralston noted Vermont has 12 regional economic development corporations to usher new entrepreneurs into the system.
•  Establishment of a “Vermont Entrepreneurial Lending Program.” This program is designed to help knowledge-based businesses overcome the obstacle of having few assets to use as collateral for traditional commercial loans. The state and its Vermont Economic Development Authority would join together to provide loan-loss reserve funding to underwrite the higher level of risk in these “new economy” loans. No state funds will be loaned through this program, according to Ralston, a member of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
•  An appropriation of $10,000 to sponsor networking events throughout the state between investors and entrepreneurs.
“That’s a very low cost for a very high-potential activity,” Ralston said.
•  Expansion (by $500,000) of the state’s Downtown Tax Credits for construction of technology infrastructure, such as Wi-Fi, utilities and telecommunications.
•  Creation of new middle-income housing through the federal EB-5 program. The EB-5 program provides a method of obtaining a green card for foreign nationals who invest money in the U.S. Ralston is proposing that such investment more aggressively target development of middle-income housing that he believes is essential for families to take the new jobs that will be created in the state.
•  A provision allowing manufacturers to opt out of the Efficiency Vermont Program and its related monthly charge, if the manufacturer so chooses. The Vermont Public Service Board will be asked to investigate potential changes to the state’s electricity rate structure for the state’s manufacturers.
•  Creation of a “Domestic Export” marketing program for Vermont producers. Ralston explained that the state currently has programs available to help businesses that want to export products internationally, but not much assistance for producers seeking to expand in the U.S. The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Chief Marketing Office would be asked to create a “Domestic Export Pilot Program” to connect Vermont producers with brokers, buyers and distributors in other U.S. states and regional markets; provide technical and marketing assistance to the state’s producers; and provide matching grants of up to $2,000 per business per year (for a total of $75,000) to attend trade shows and other events.
Ralston hopes H.736 moves through the legislative process and is signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin this year. He has already discussed the bill with House Speaker Shap Smith, who has encouraged the sponsors to get the measure passed by the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee by the end of this month.
“It will be a challenge, but (Smith) is supportive,” Ralston said of the bill’s prospects this year. “I am optimistic.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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