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Schubart: On taking initiative

01/21/09 5:55PM By Bill Schubart
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(HOST) Amidst all the hand-wringing about the economy, policy failures, and partisanship, commentator Bill Schubart sees significant opportunity for Vermont's diverse entrepreneurs.

(SCHUBART) Vermont has options. In these perilous moments of great change when old things get brittle and break, savvy people design and build new things. There is opportunity in chaos for those who see it.

The Governor in his "State of the State" address called for bold action to stabilize Vermont's budget deficit. We need him to lead an equally passionate discussion around our options for innovation and growth. They are many and manifest.

Two of the fastest growing job creation sectors are healthcare and higher education, both of which are in the non-profit sector. Commercial sectors that will need investment, tax and regulatory emendment include: light manufacturing, diversified agriculture, wood forest products and fuels, niche tourism, and the arts and information services.

We need to put to rest the ideas that we will recruit another great economic asset like IBM or that we will have significant growth in large scale, commodity dairy. We must work hard to encourage and retain both and let go of trying to find more.

Our myths inhibit us. We are not "special." Our state boundaries have no economic meaning. We are part of an economic, regulatory and tax region that comprises Northern New England and Quebec. Our communities are indeed special, but so are everyone else's. Ask someone in New York's West Village.

The "Commission on the Future of Vermont" has gathered grassroots information on what Vermonter's value most. Number one is their "working landscape." This means that agriculture, in its increasing diversity, must continue to be a vital part of Vermont's economy, values and vistas even though it is largely ignored in the State's economic development priorities. So will our forests, also part of our working landscape. Forest products whether cordwood, chairs or cellos will persist in our new economy and our working landscape.

Innovation and initiative is all around us. It is depressed by stale tax policy, sluggish permitting and lack of risk capital. We must acknowledge what is lost to the past and understand what is emerging as our future. We must understand what creates and nourishes entrepreneurial startups and grow that culture here. With our demonstrated capacity to innovate socially, why are we so thoroughly missing the boat economically?

Poor quality goods and high transportation costs are casting a shadow on Asian exports. Vermont's light manufacturing sector can compete on quality alone, especially when using indigenous natural resources.

Niche tourism using our high quality educational, healthcare, cultural heritage, and farm and food culture resources needs a marketing plan.

We have major arts resources: The Vermont Studio Center, The Vermont College of Fine Arts, Marlboro, Breadloaf and one of the highest concentrations of artists and writers in the country.

We have over 200 software companies working in retail, real estate, hospitality, e-commerce and energy management.

We need new glasses. We are not seeing what is in front of us.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Bill Schubart on-line at VPR-dot-net
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