Opinion
March 12, 2015

Vermont is a great place to do business

By Andy Robinson, VTDigger.org contributor

Despite what you’ve heard, Vermont is a great place to do business.

In 2002, I moved my business and my family to Vermont. Since we arrived, the business has grown every year, so our adopted state has been a great place to own and run a business. Let me tell you why we chose Vermont, and continue to believe that we made a good choice.

Quality of life

Vermont has a unique combination of natural beauty, arts and culture, compassionate people, working farms and forests, and historic cities and towns. It’s beautiful here, thanks in part to the state’s strong conservation and historic preservation regulations.

Saying this differently: Environmental laws like Act 250 weren’t a barrier to my business, they attracted my business. Coming from Arizona, where all the main roads are strip malls and an acre of desert is bulldozed every hour, we wanted to live where people respect and protect the land. We found that here.

Affordability

In researching places to live, a primary question was, “Can we afford to buy a house?” – in our case, the first and only home we’ve ever owned. Home prices in central Vermont were by far the lowest of all the places we researched, and they remain middle-of-the-pack by national standards.

These days, the Vermont brand is politically progressive and environmentally friendly. So let’s actively identify, recruit and retain businesses that embrace these values – and embrace everything Vermont has to offer – even when that means paying the marginally higher costs of operating in our state.

Yes, property taxes are high – but many of us accept that as the cost of living in a place we love, with good schools and proactive government. To quote the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.” Compared to the many other places I’ve lived, Vermont is pretty damn civilized.

When I hear about an “affordability crisis,” I have to ask, “Affordable compared to where?” Let’s acknowledge that many people struggle to make it here, but this national problem is not unique to Vermont. In our state, the bigger challenge is low wages, rather than high costs.

Political culture

Democracy works best at a small scale, and Vermont is a very small state. This is an asset. I love that we can walk into the Statehouse in Montpelier and talk to anyone. I love town meeting. At all levels, our government is relatively informal and easily accessible.

After years of living in politically conservative places, we frankly chose Vermont because it has a progressive political climate.

As a businessperson, I am not alone in these beliefs. One of the state’s fastest-growing business organizations is Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, whose 750 members employ 14 percent of the state’s workforce. Members include a variety of small businesses, nonprofits, and major corporations, including iconic Vermont brands like Ben & Jerry’s, Keurig Green Mountain, Seventh Generation, Gardener’s Supply, and Green Mountain Power.

In recent years, with the support of its membership, VBSR has lobbied for a variety of issues that some people would consider liberal or progressive: shutting down Vermont Yankee, labeling GMO foods, raising the minimum wage, protecting our lakes and rivers, promoting alternative energy, universal pre-kindergarten education, and publicly financed health care with access for everyone. VBSR members believe these policies are both good for Vermont and good for business.

Let’s face it, folks: These days, the Vermont brand is politically progressive and environmentally friendly. So let’s actively identify, recruit and retain businesses that embrace these values – and embrace everything Vermont has to offer – even when that means paying the marginally higher costs of operating in our state.

The next time you hear business owners complaining about taxes and regulations, remember that they represent only one segment of our very diverse business community. They certainly don’t represent me.

Andy Robinson, lives and works in Plainfield.

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