Opinion: Vermont economy isn’t as great as politicans claim

As I drove down the road the other day, headed from one commitment to the next, I was hit with a sudden, in-your-face realization about the current state of Vermont’s economy.
Sure, I’ve seen plenty of articles and reports providing contrasting doom and gloom and optimistic outlooks for our beloved Green Mountain State, but I never really knew exactly where we stood. Until now.
Traveling a distance of less than a mile on a street in one of Vermont’s larger cities, I counted eight single-family residences for sale, not to mention a couple of other multi-family structures and one commercial building — all on the market, and presumably with few, to no buyers at all, knocking on the door for a tour.
Now mind you, this isn’t a neighborhood where houses are packed together tightly, either. I’m talking about eight houses for sale out of about 20 to 25 total residences along this single stretch of road. Either the prior owners have moved away, or, because of the poor economy in Vermont, have been forced out of their mortgages and into rental situations. Sadly, it’s probably a mix of both.
What I’ve realized — probably much slower than many, and maybe ahead of a few — is that Vermont is not in a stable position whatsoever. Despite what our governor and other political leaders have pitched to all of us regarding employment rates, supposed job growth and all of the “great” things happening here, the bottom line is that Vermont is in serious trouble.
Here are some quick stats: We currently have 335,000 residents working out of a total population of 626,000 — and that includes the self-employed. For comparison, we had 328,000 workers in 1999. That’s a net growth of 7,000 jobs in a 14-year span. Not to mention that a good chunk of our population, in all probability, is living on state-run handout programs funded by those who do work. Here’s the kicker: North Dakota, with a population just slightly larger than Vermont, has added over 50,000 jobs in the same 14-year period.
And, adding insult to injury, Vermont’s population actually went down this year, marking the first population downturn in three-quarters of a century. Furthermore, student enrollment at our local schools continues to fall. 
All of this is happening while our most influential elected officials continue to add taxes, operate inefficient and ineffective government programs, stymie development, mandate high-cost energy and impose a variety of roadblocks on businesses that are barely getting by as is.
This isn’t mentioning the many businesses that take a quick look at Vermont, realize the hand writing on the wall, and quickly turn to look at other locales for a home-base and skilled employees.
Meanwhile, to our east in New Hampshire, you will find a vibrant economy that benefits from no sales tax, no tax on wages, no estate tax and no land gains tax. By supporting rather than opposing business development, New Hampshire has become a hub for the technology industry, primarily in the southern part of the state. It has also grown its population by well over 6 percent since 2000, one that is more than double Vermont’s. So while Vermont get’s “more of the same” because of our poor policy-making decisions, our neighbors in New Hampshire move forward with rapid progress.
So as our educated graduates continue to leave Vermont for better opportunities elsewhere and our cost of living persistently rises, one must ask the question: How bad will things get before our elected officials start moving Vermont in the right direction?
So far, Bruce Lisman and his group, Campaign for Vermont, are the only ones who have really attacked the problem that is our struggling economy. Maybe our current administration ought to reach out to those folks for help, or at least take a page from their playbook.
Vermont is desperate for progress and our legislators should keep that top-of-mind during this session.
Jeff Provost, Ferrisburgh

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