by Rob Roper
Governor Shumlin has an idea for a plan to keep and attract young people to Vermont. It’s called, “Bring it back to Vermont.” But bring it back to what, exactly?
CNBC, the NBC cable spin-off that covers business and financial news, released its report card on “America’s Top States for Business 2012.” States were graded in a number of categories, (Cost of Doing Business, Workforce, Quality of Life, Economy, Infrastructure & Transportation, Technology & Innovation, Education, Business Friendliness, Access to Capital, and Cost of Living) and given an overall raking. Vermont came in 39th.
Dragging us down are our Infrastructure & Transportation (48th), Cost of Living (42nd), Cost of Business (38th), and our Workforce (43rd). Our stand-out assets are our Quality of Life (3rd) and our Education (4th). Everywhere else we were a couple points to either side of the middle. (What I personally find questionable about these numbers is how can you have the 4th best education system in the country turning out the 43rd worst work-force? But, perhaps that’s a whole ‘nuther story.)
The question is, is this environment really going to compete with other states for attracting and keeping a young, skilled, ambitious labor force in Vermont? We have our quality of life, that’s true. But, just next door in New Hampshire you could enjoy the #1 quality of life in America, according to CNBC, and thrive in the 19th best business environment to boot.
Other states where you can earn your cake and eat it too: Utah, #2 and #10 overall and in quality of life, respectively. North Dakota, #5 and #5. South Dakota #7 and #7. Colorado #8 and #8. Wyoming, #10 and #9. And, Virginia, #3 and #16. The point being, there are lots of places with great skiing, hiking, kayaking, etc. where you don’t have to sacrifice earning a living to live.
One young person (35) who is not terribly impressed with his first look at Governor Shumlin’s initiative is Jason Lee, who is also running for the Vermont House of Representatives in Grand Isle. (www.jasonleeinthehouse.com)
“My initial thought is that if we have to rely on an ad campaign (funded by tax dollars) to attract young workers to Vermont, then it is clear that we have been traveling down the wrong path for some time. It’s no secret that Vermont is an awesome place to live. Nobody needs an ad campaign to convince them of that,” said Lee.
In regard to the job openings the governor pointed to in his Wednesday press conference, revealed by the survey of Vermont businesses, Lee said, “The numbers themselves are not that impressive. Only half of the companies polled are hiring. Not impressive. So 300 companies have 2100 jobs available. That’s not bad until you consider that most of those are in health and sales – two fields that typically have high turnover rates and are almost always hiring. Two fields that also don’t pay much (unless you’re a doctor!)”
The high cost of housing in Vermont is one of the often cited reasons why employers have a hard time recruiting employees to Vermont. But Lee questioned how the governor was proposing to remedy that situation. “Are we taking government subsidized housing here? Again, our tax dollars at work. And, what kind of young people are we trying to attract here?”
Lee’s suggestion, “Maybe we would be better served if we tried to attract businesses that provided jobs in higher skilled areas. You know, so those college alumni can actually use their degree instead of working at a grocery store.”
But that would mean fundamentally reforming those areas of our economy – Transportation & Infrastructure, Costs of Living and Doing Business (ie, taxes and regulations) – that this legislature and this governor don’t seem to have the stomach to tackle. That’s why young Vermonters like Jason Lee are taking matters regarding their future into their own hands by running for office.