Community Forum: Vermont’s economy is showing progress

This week’s writers are Annie Noonan, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Labor and Lisa Gosselin, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development. Gosselin is married to Addison Independentpublisher Angelo Lynn.
As our nation recovers from one of the worst recessions in recent history, there is a tendency to keep thinking of our economy as a glass that is half empty. When we hear about job losses or see international companies consolidating operations elsewhere, it is easy to fall into that mindset.
But in Vermont, there’s another story.
We are fortunate to have avoided the crippling mortgage crisis and high unemployment that afflicted so many states. We have worked tirelessly to strengthen Vermont’s economy by diversifying and insulating ourselves from downturns that might hit any single sector. 
We have made significant progress.
Since January 2011, when Gov. Shumlin took office, we have added more than 11,000 new jobs statewide, including 3,000 in manufacturing, professional services, science and technology. Our farm economy, tourism and value-added agricultural products sectors have also experienced impressive growth. Our renewable energy firms created more than 1,000 new jobs last year alone, and Vermont now ranks number one in the nation for solar jobs per capita.
It has been a long, slow recovery from the recession, and companies around the world continue to feel the impacts. But many of Vermont’s homegrown businesses are flourishing. In the past 18 months, we have seen multi-million dollar deals struck by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Dealer.com and Vermont Hard Cider Co. Thanks to them and many others, our jobs are growing.
Our glass is more than half full. Vermont has nearly returned to its pre-recession employment numbers. We currently have the fifth lowest unemployment in the nation and lowest east of the Mississippi River.
Adjusted gross income for Vermonters also increased by more than 5 percent between 2011 and 2012. While all of us would like to see even greater progress, it is an encouraging rate of growth and among the best in the nation. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has found that the “Massachusetts and Vermont economies led the region along most indicators in 2013,” and that Vermont in the third quarter of last year had the strongest increase in the region in wage and salary income compared to the same quarter in the previous year. 
Our training and employment programs have helped thousands of Vermonters find new jobs and learn skills that prepare them for new careers. For the third year in row, Vermont is ranked first in the nation in the bipartisan Opportunity Index, which rates states and communities using 16 key economic, educational and civic indicators.
There is increased growth and opportunity in every corner of our state. Burlington has been named one of the top 10 most promising tech hubs nationwide. Ski areas in Stowe, Wilmington, Warren, Burke, Jay and Ludlow are building new infrastructure and growing into year-round resort destinations that can bring millions of new visitors to our state.
Towns like St. Albans, Barre, Newport, Morrisville, Middlebury, Bennington and Brattleboro are investing in their downtowns, creating jobs, housing and business opportunities. Companies such as Kaman Composites in Bennington, Middlebury Interactive Languages, WCW of Manchester, Mylan in St. Albans, Freedom Foods in Randolph, Logic Supply in South Burlington, Biotek in Winooski, Ivek in North Springfield and others are adding jobs and bringing new prosperity to their regions.
All of this is happening in Vermont, which is consistently ranked one of the healthier, happier, and better educated in the nation. As we meet with employers and job seekers, we hear often about the powerful draw of Vermont’s great educational system, beautiful outdoors and tremendous quality of life.
We have more to do to strengthen and diversify our recovery, to keep the cost of living affordable, and to create greater economic opportunity for all Vermonters. But we have already made tremendous progress and we will keep moving forward.

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