By Governor Peter Shumlin
Last I week I visited with young professionals along the western side of Vermont in Rutland, St. Albans, and Middlebury. At every stop, I was inspired to see so many committed to living, working, and building strong communities in Vermont. Some hailed from outside Vermont, attracted to our state by its natural beauty, outdoor activities, and culture. Others were raised here, went away for college, but moved back because they realized Vermont is the place where they want to raise their own kids. Regardless of how they got here, we should thank them for the success they have brought to our state and do more to attract others like them to settle here.
In Rutland I sat down with the Rutland Young Professionals (RYP), all of whom are living and working in Rutland and striving to make their city a better place for everyone. We met at The Bakery in downtown Rutland, a relatively new meeting place that is next to the recently-opened Small Dog Electronics and around the corner from Castleton State College’s Rutland outpost and the Green Mountain Power Innovation Center.
Some of the RYP members are working in our booming renewable energy industry; others are serving on the Board of Aldermen and building the next generation of city leadership. The downtown corridor is more vibrant now than it has been in decades, and the young entrepreneurs in the RYP are leading the charge to make the city’s future bright.
In St. Albans I met with a group of business owners and town officials to discuss ways to continue the amazing revitalization we have seen in that downtown over the last four years. One such business is 14th Star Brewery, owned and operated by Steve Gagner. Steve served in Afghanistan, where he wrote his initial business plan for the craft brewery, and upon returning he set up shop in St. Albans. Steve tapped into the growing craft beer movement here in Vermont, which is spawning jobs and tourism activity all around our state and garnering worldwide awards. His success is even more inspiring when you talk to him and understand how he runs his business. For him and 14th Star, community is everything. He understands that for his family and business to thrive, St. Albans needs to thrive as well. The significant investment the state, the city, and its businesses have made to revive St. Albans’ downtown will keep the community strong and moving forward.
In Middlebury I met with two young Vermont entrepreneurs who are building on the successes of our local food movement with a new line of Vermont aged spirits. Called Stonecutter Spirits, the operation is housed on Middlebury’s Exchange Street, a growing corridor of economic activity that includes Cabot Cheese, Otter Creek Brewing, Woodchuck Cider, Vermont Coffee Company, Champlain Valley Creamery, and others. Sas and Sivan Cotel, the founders of Stonecutter Spirits, moved to Vermont because they value the community and natural beauty you can only find here, and they knew that this state fosters entrepreneurs like them.
These stories of the young are not isolated; they are playing out all over the state. Our charge now is to do more to support young people like them so they can continue to grow and thrive. We’re working hard this session to do that.
To help young businesses get off the ground, we’re working to make capital more available by broadening participation and making it easier for business to access the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive (VEGI) program. Last year, we doubled the Vermont Small Business Offering limits to help start-up entrepreneurs. Just last year VEGI awarded $4.7 million that will help create 708 new full-time jobs, generate $15.3 million in new payroll, and $136 million in investment in Vermont. This year we are proposing changes to broaden the program, making it so more Vermont entrepreneurs can access this program that will grow jobs and economic opportunity for all.
We’re also working to make sure more Vermont kids have the ability to access a higher education and the incentives to stay in Vermont when they graduate. Thanks to work we did last year, Vermont kids can now earn up to two years of free college if they stay and work in the state after they graduate. This year, we’re working with Vermont Technical College and private employers to take that program to the next level with a new offering that will pair Vermont students with Vermont employers and allow them to earn a free associates degree in engineering. It’s a win-win for students and businesses.
We’re also working to create child savings accounts for every kid born in Vermont, to be used for higher education. The accounts will be funded with private donations and the research shows that kids with a savings account are three times more likely to enter college and four times more likely to graduate.
All over Vermont we are seeing young people establishing themselves and building the future of our state. I look forward to continuing to work to support them and help them move Vermont forward.