DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Just in time to influence the Vermont gubernatorial election, Forbes Magazine has released its annual report on the best business states in the Union. Vermont comes in 45th - up two spots from last year.
The only states "worse" in are Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Rhode Island and poor little Maine, stuck at the bottom. The best state? It's Utah, so pack your bags now.
There are other magazines, however, and other reports. And in those reports. Vermont is usually at or near the top as the
healthiest state, the smartest state, the safest state or the best state to raise a family in.
In other words, Vermont is good for people.
But people need jobs. So is Vermont, as our Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and the man he hopes will replace him, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, like to point out, bad for business?
While there are many ways to look at the Forbes report, no
one seems to question the methodology they use to rank states as
being "good" for business.
Forbes says it used "six vital categories for businesses:
costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, current economic
climate, growth prospects and quality of life. ... Business costs, which include labor, energy and taxes, are weighted the most heavily."
Using those criteria, how does Vermont compare?
For business costs, Vermont is 42nd.
For labor supply, Vermont is 16th.
For regulatory environment, Vermont is 45th.
For economic climate, Vermont is 39th.
For growth prospects, Vermont is 45th.
For quality of life, Vermont is 15th.
Translated, it means that we get positive points for having an educated workforce and our quality of life, but get dinged for having higher wages and energy costs, more environmental and business regulations and higher taxes.
As a result, businesses looking for a low wage, low
regulation, low tax place to build a factory are looking elsewhere. The huge pump-and-dump, rapacious multinational corporations will always avoid a place like Vermont.
But the small, ecologically mindful, creative and resourceful businesses seem to thrive here.
As many of you know, my day job is writing profiles of
Vermont entrepreneurs for Vermont Business Magazine. To be profiled, a company usually has to show more than $1 million in yearly revenue, and often a lot more. During the interviews, one question has become standard: "Is Vermont bad for business?"
Here are some of the more recent answers:
Jeffrey and Dorothy Wolfe run GroSolar in White River
Junction. They have taken a small solar living room startup and built it into a national solar energy installation and distribution company. They employ about 150 people across the country and reported revenues in 2009 of about $60 million.
Here's what Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said about them: "It's an amazing Vermont story - people with a passion to do real good, to do alternative energy, which is important for the future of our planet, and they managed to build what is now the largest American-owned solar company in the U.S. This takes a special skill - the self-confidence to go into this vast warehouse, rent very little space, and step by step, make it a huge success. That's fabulous for them and for Vermont."
Carolyn Cooke is the CEO and cofounder of Isis in
Burlington. She helped develop the first line of women's outdoor
clothing in the U.S. Now the company makes outdoor and indoor women's clothing and sells to about 300 dealers in the U.S. Sales last year - in the down economy - were about $8 million.
Cooke said Vermont "is a great state with lots of small
businesses and a lot of good resources. ... People are making a
really good living and loving what they do and there's a lot of
creative juice in the state."
Jack Davidson is the cofounder and president of The Trust Company of Vermont. Based in Brattleboro, this mainly employee-owned company has six offices in the state and manages a portfolio of about $650 million.
"We decided to stay in Vermont," said Davidson. "Most of us simply want to live in these small towns and stay here for the rest of our lives. Nobody here is talking about retiring and moving to Florida. Managing for generations. Not getting sold out. Nothing complicated about it. I love doing business in Vermont. I think being in Vermont is perfect."
Simon Pearce came from Ireland to America specifically to make clear glass that was beautiful and useful. He now has four factories in three states - two in Vermont and one each in Maryland and Pennsylvania. - and had about $27.5 million in sales in 2009.
"People say the state is antibusiness, but I don't see that and I don't feel that," Pearce said. "One thing I love is that you can go to Montpelier and talk to people. I feel overall very positive about the state and how they are with business. I don't think they put up roadblocks or do things deliberately."
Over the past decade, I've heard similar things from dozens of other successful men and women who still believe that Vermont is place worth doing business in. These are the people who are the backbone of today's Vermont economy. We can only wonder why they are barely a blip on the radar of Douglas, Dubie and the rest of the Vermont Republican Party.
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist and columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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