Commentary, Opinion

A session focused on stewardship 

By Cathy Davis

Vermont understands sustainability in a way few other places do. Whether it be our agrarian roots, living closer to natural resources, or something else, it is hard to find a Vermonter who does not intrinsically understand that the environment or natural systems have a carrying capacity, that resources are finite, and that on a long enough timeline they can be depleted.

However, when we switch to other subjects, we don’t seem to carry the same lessons. In the wake of such a traumatic economic crisis, we would be well served to think of our economy in the same way we do our natural resources and take steps to further our economic stewardship.

Vermont’s economic ecosystem is somewhat unique in the context of the American economic landscape, and just as a biologist or environmental steward seeking to understand or preserve a natural ecosystem wouldn’t attempt to hastily transpose lessons from one place to another, we cannot do so when trying to recover from our ongoing economic disaster. Vermont businesses are small, and many of the dollars within our economy can be traced out of state, from tourism, hospitality, and federally funded activity.

Just as someone dependent on the land must be extra vigilant in years with external pressures such as blight or drought, so too must a legislature that looks to harvest from a strained economic ecosystem. We know that millions of dollars in economic activity evaporated between the months of March and September.

As our Legislature continues the people’s business in a new session, we hope that they can focus their attention most prominently on the impacts of Covoid-19. This is not to say that we should only be looking two steps in front of us; we also must look up at the horizon. During the spring and summer, the Legislature did this well.

One such example is the collaboration between the Dept. of Housing & Community Development and the Legislature to deploy federal funds to quickly renovate housing and shelter Vermonters at a time when we asked people to stay at home. This solution met the challenge of the moment and long-term issues that have been impeding Vermont’s economic growth.

Similarly, we saw fantastic work by the Commerce Committee late in the last session to direct federal dollars to our State College system that enabled Vermonters on unemployment to further their education; providing additional capital to a system that needs it and a chance for people whose lives had been interrupted to better equip themselves for new opportunities.

These are the types of solutions that we need to focus on, those specifically tailored to the challenges unique to our state, providing a timely reaction to the problems in front of us, while lending to our long term recovery. Our recovery must be the focus of this legislative session, ensuring that Vermonters’ basic needs are met while encouraging economic activity. We have all the confidence that the Legislature can deliver such outcomes and we stand ready to be a partner in those efforts.

Cathy Davis is president of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce.

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