by Martin Harris
For reasons about which your Humble Scribe can only speculate, he wasn’t invited to the recent brie-and-chablis celebration in the State Capitol on the occasion of successful economic policy designed, executed, and now showing admirable clear-cut results with irrefutable statistical analysis. This time, the report/attention was showered upon that usually ill-served-by-State-House-policy economic sector, The Status of Women-Owned Businesses. In a nationwide State-by-State ranking, Vermont was found to be #45 in “growth in number of firms.” Parallel-universe thinking: In more “normal’’ states, business growth is a goal, so 45th out of 50 is a mark of near-failure. But in this one State actively discouraging business, for ecological/sustainablility theoretical reasons, it’s a 5th-from-the-best success. In terms of Vermont-governance approach-to-business, it’s of a piece with a newer effort: the one to tax Internet “cloud” business more so as to have less of it. (that cause-and-effect, an observation used by government to justify tobacco taxation, is denied by the same folks for any negative effect on, say, savings and investment. Both politician Jack Kemp and economist Alan Greenspan have been credited for the one-liner.)
In scale of ambition, the prevention-of-women-owned-business growth isn’t up there with shutting down a third of the State’s power supply, still a work-in-progress, but it’s a match in underlying purpose: pursuit of the noble ecological goal of chlorophyll always and everywhere over commerce. It’s all the more noteworthy when you come to realize that only in Vermont has the State House/Golden-Dome effort been so focused on denying despoilers (of either gender) any opportunity to “pave Paradise and put up a parking lot”, in the inimitable phrasing of 70’s era Canadian singerette Joni Mitchell. All other States, still entrapped in -–ugh—male notions of business development, job creation, competition, and productivity enhancement, still aggressively seek opportunities to supplant grass and trees with pavement and structures housing actual for-profit businesses, which thrive when they meet their customers’ expectations and vanish when they don’t, unlike government, which, well, never mind. In this respect, VT is far ahead of the rest: they still all rank gains in new women-owned business as if these trends were positive: and, by their own patriarchal measure, the top States in women-owned-business expansion over the last 15 years have been Georgia (95%), Nevada (92%) North Carolina (83%) Mississippi (75%), and Texas (75%). At the bottom were Alaska (11%), Iowa (21%), West Virginia (22%, Kansas (25%), and Ohio (25%). Vermont, at 28% for growth in number of firms, came in at #45. The American Express OPEN Report also noted that those Vermont firms scored a grass-and-trees-saving -1.7% decline in employment over the last 15 years: the present 13,300 workers were earlier 13, 526. Those vanished job-holders, most likely, all drove to work –the State House, regrettably, hasn’t made much progress towards getting them back into their grand-parents’ three-decker-style walk-up apartments and onto street-cars—and so the missing 226 represent more than an acre of avoided paved parking spaces and another half-acre or so of saved trees and grass because of driveways and accesses no longer needed
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At the State House wine-tasting, decorous conversation will doubtless avoid Vermont’s comparatively poor showing in employment shrinkage. At a mere 1.7%, it’s not even close to such real accomplishments in parking-space restoration-to-grass as posted by Rhode Island, #1 nationally at 26.8% employment reduction, Iowa at -19.8%, or Illinois at -16.6%. But those three have not had a proudly anti-business climate, even if each, under pressure from its own internal Left, has done some remarkably anti-business deeds in taxation and regulation.
These States, unlike Vermont, haven’t even gotten to advanced policies and legal strategies to shut down electric power production, encourage the outmigration of business (equal-opportunity, both male-and female-owned) or managed to cut expensive K-12 student enrollment more than 10% indirectly, as families leaving the state in pursuit of jobs predictably take their kids with them. Just think what your property taxes would now be if the recent-years enrollment decline hadn’t been skillfully designed by an ever-sensitive State House. By rough calculation it’s some $150 million of skillfully avoided costs, enough to put to rest any ill-founded charges that Montpelier just doesn’t care about the economic well-being of its human subjects, just as for the environmental well-being (and even restoration) of its trees-and-grass.
That’s because these States, unlike Vermont, haven’t yet gone proudly post-industrial. Without exception, they still aggressively pursue promising employers with Tax-Incentive-Programs and a spectrum of damaging-to-chlorophyll programs ranging from highway improvements to utility expansions, in planning and zoning frameworks which universally embrace the industrial and retail campus concepts and actually recognize the need for about a square foot of on-site parking for each square foot of retail or commerce. The annual Small Business Tax Climate Index Report, from the Tax Foundation, reflects the results of State policy: for 2012, Vermont is #47, exceeded only by California (#48), New York, (#49) and New Jersey (#50).
That’s why fifth-from-the-top for women-owned-firm-prevention is worthy of a bit of Chablis, but, as those in the know in Montpelier will quietly concede, “there’s just so much more work to be done.” That they’re so eager to pursue the challenges and turn partial anti-business success into real job prevention (as their unflagging attention to the Vermont Yankee “problem” continues to illustrate) speaks volumes for their superior intellect, economic skill, and, willingness to, in Progressive Rudyard Kipling’s famous words, “take up the white man’s burden” to bring post-industrial civilization to the savages. After all, as they would point out if asked, the Stone Age didn’t end just because our cave-dweller ancestors ran out of stones.