The Shape of our Manufacturing Future

Industrial development and urban areas have always shared a unique history. There were times when manufacturing was considered the heartbeat of a region and times when it has been castigated; it has appeared to be on the decline in favor of cheaper overseas options, yet at the same time a source of high-value local pride. The ideals with which employers associate the Vermont workforce come up again and again as the pillars of our industrial past; the appreciation for quality and value of a job well done.

But collectively, we’ve also come to understand the important nature of our natural assets. Vermont is home to many of these advantages, with mountains and a lake that equally characterize who we are. And with this recognition has come a shift in perception for how we grow our economy, some of the changes are real and some are perceived. But what is for certain is that the successful path to a prosperous economic future is not to have these ideals of value-adding manufacturing and natural space be at loggerheads.

The reality of our situation is that manufacturing jobs in Chittenden County account for more than 11% of the workforce. Projections for future growth in our County indicate that by 2035, we can expect another 55,000 individuals to join the workforce; the trend, even if the service economy is to grow, is that there will be around 5,000 more employees as a part of our manufacturing future.

The question, then, is where? We understand that space is at a premium. Greenfield development is not an ideal solution due to the finite nature of land, as well as the prohibitive costs associated with developing infrastructure to meet the needs of employers. The commercial market favors quicker returns, and has been ready and willing to produce office-space infill, the type of space that is quickly moved, and highly dense. The industrial market takes time; money is tied up until lots sell, or are leased.

The solution as GBIC sees the situation is that there are already existing locations in this County that have not yet been included in the industrial market for reasons of commercial willingness or timing. These spaces already have the required infrastructure, and would be infill on already industrially designated areas. Our high value-adding manufacturing future will rely on a collective willingness to create these “job-banks” for future Vermonters to find employment. It will require significant foresight and strong partnerships, both public and private, to ensure that we’re ready when the opportunity comes knocking.