Commentary, Opinion

What are your ideas for the future of Vermont?

By Paul Costello

Vermont’s pandemic recovery is a catalytic opportunity for creative renewal. How do we work together to revitalize Vermont? Where do our values, principles, culture and economy fit together as we search for common paths to a more resilient, prosperous and welcoming state?

Throughout this long year, the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) has brought together thousands of Vermonters working for recovery in their communities, and in county and statewide efforts. In Zoom call after Zoom call, we have seen the faces of Vermonters, often tired and anxious.

One regional participant in recovery efforts put it, “We are working with desperate urgency to plan, but circumstances prevent any knowledge of what’s coming at us next.”

VCRD has helped local leaders learn from each other, build protocols and share best practices. Also, we’ve been asking them what they believe will be essential for Vermont’s recovery.

Almost universally Vermonters’ responses have been that we can’t just go “back to normal” as we rebound from this crisis. The old normal, including loss of youth, opportunity gaps and economic doldrums need to be addressed. Too many fundamental problems have been exposed — from the need to address racial equity to the pressing concern of building economic solutions to answer climate change. It’s time to look at how the challenges we face and the opportunities ahead overlap and where our collective action can have the most profound impact going forward.

For more than 20 years, VCRD has worked in communities across the state to help people band together around key issues, set direction and commit with courage to action. We’ve seen again and again how agreeing on common goals and putting shoulders to the wheel has a huge impact. We believe that as we come out of the crucible of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is time for Vermonters to set unifying goals and line up to advance a transformative renewal of this place we love and are committed to.

We want you to help us answer the question, “What should we do in the next three years to create a strong and prosperous Vermont during the next 30?”

We’ve already begun collecting ideas using interviews, group conversations, and surveys with thousands of Vermonters. Their feedback and aspirations have contributed to a preliminary draft of a “Proposition for the Future of Vermont.” Now, it’s your turn to react to these proposition statements.

The proposition in its current draft is made up of 10 statements. What is missing? What needs to change? What do you feel deeply about? What is your proposition for the future of Vermont?

Here’s our draft list so far (which will certainly change with your input):

Part 1: Vermont must ensure universal broadband and cellular access, while using digital tools to promote community, civility and democracy, and to advance local commerce and economic opportunity. (See commentary on page 11)

Part 2: Vermonters must oppose racism, renew and expand our collective identity and welcome new Vermonters. (See commentary on page 11.)

Part 3: Vermont must advance creative economic solutions to climate change.

Part 4: Vermont must reduce economic disparity, advance economic opportunity and rebuild the middle class.

Part 5: Vermont must re-localize energy, agriculture, and business investment for a resilient economy.

Part 6: Vermont must ensure all children have access to affordable, quality child care and education.

Part 7: Vermont must strengthen business vitality by advancing entrepreneurship, investment, workforce and rural innovation.

Part 8: Vermont must reform regional coordination and governance and advance efficiency and foresight in state planning.

Part 9: Vermont must protect our lands and waters and advance the economy of the working landscape.

Part 10: Together, Vermonters must renew civic engagement and strengthen trust, civility, democratic decision-making and empower young Vermonters.

Help define the bold and decisive action you want to see. Share your ideas by taking the Proposition survey at: futureofvermont.org or email [email protected] for a paper copy.

What happens next? VCRD will compile your critical input and bring an updated version of the Proposition to Vermonters later this spring. We will present a “Summit on the Future of Vermont” to share these ideas and consider ways to drive them forward. Following the summit, VCRD will convene a Partnership for the Future of Vermont that will invite Vermonters to work together to advance these ideas. At the same time, we will build a leadership board to set implementation strategies and lead nonpartisan advocacy.

Share your ideas today and join us in the work for the recovery and renewal of a united Vermont.

Sign up at futureofvermont.org to get updates on the Proposition, the upcoming Summit on the Future of Vermont and more.

Paul Costello is executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

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