Bill Schubart on Planning in Vermont

Bill Schubart recently presented to the Champlain Forum on the topic of how Vermont needs to be move forward and, unsurprisingly, Mr. Schubart took the time to underscore the fact that we don’t know where we’re heading.  “Vermont reveres its past,” he began, “but has not been great at learning from it. Like many people and institutions it seems to need to relearn lessons repeatedly.”  However, the real point Mr. Schubart brought to the table is that we have no shortage of these lessons from which to develop an economic plan that will drive progress in our state.

“If the way forward in business is anything like government, the progression is study, plan, execute, measure and correct. Vermont rarely gets out of the study mode, perhaps because of the inherent tension between political durability and the pain and risk associated with actually leading an enterprise […]The cycle of study, plan, execute, measure and correct in Vermont usually ends with “study” and usually in the summer. The sheer number of printed but unexecuted “summer studies” could probably provide fuel for Vermonters’ woodstoves for next year.”

This year our state (and the rest of the country) faced considerable pressures and constraint on budget income and expenditures.  This led to the Legislature deciding to convene a committee to take a top-down examination of revenue-side budget sources (essentially a review of taxes and fees) within the next two years.  While this appears to be promising, for it to show real value it must do what so many other studies cannot: follow through on the recommendations from the committee.  And while it’s easy to place blame if we’re not satisfied with the results, Mr. Schubart points out that “We’ve become adept at blaming leaders, anyone other than ourselves, but the reality in a democracy is we are led, or not, by the leaders we ourselves choose.  In the end, we are responsible.”

But this is just the beginning of where we need to find opportunity in challenge.  It is not just enough to examine traditional sources of state income, but to generate new ways of broadening our employment/employer base by actively encouraging and supporting those who are driving our economy.  This shouldn’t mean simply throwing money at the problem as states such as South Carolina have done, but it does mean implementing and fully supporting programs designed to be meaningful for employers to grow, stay and possibly relocate to within our borders.  It’s not about picking winners when you make a focused economic plan, it’s about consolidating resources and delivering them through clear, responsible channels that have direct interaction with employers.

In an effort to clearly identify where Vermonters agree our state should develop, GBIC is examining two of the most complete, community driven economic reports our state has seen in recent memory published by the Commission on the Future of Economic Development and the Vermont Council on Rural development, respectively.  By examining where these reports overlap and agree, GBIC hopes to identify immediately actionable recommendations for the short term while laying groundwork to aid in a long term comprehensive economic plan for Vermont.