Our opinion: Growth happens outside Montpelier

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There are three significant pieces of news touching on attracting and training workers in Vermont this week. Two of them are promising developments, while the third reflects a troubling lack of foresight. Guess which one directly involves the Legislature?

First, the good news.

The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies has announced a new partnership with five innovation hubs throughout the state, including The Lightning Jar in Bennington.

The initiative, called #ScaleHere - the Twitter hashtag is your cue that it's targeting younger entrepreneurs - is intended to boost startups and local economic development through VCET's partnerships. The real-world value is significant, as it affords business access to 130 business mentors, one-on-one coaching and consulting sessions, and connections to technology and business resources.

The thinking behind the initiative is that the Burlington area's economic advantages - access to networks of professionals and mentors, for instance - can be shared throughout the state, and help entrepreneurs and small businesses grow in ways that might not have been otherwise possible.

A second bit of news comes from Dover, where six initiatives with the potential to improve economic development in Southern Vermont were given seals of approval as "vital projects" at the third annual Southern Vermont Economy Summit.

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Some are not as sexy as others; on the surface, a water and wastewater feasibility plan for villages in Windham County doesn't have the flash of a commitment to Phase 2 of the Putnam Block in downtown Bennington, or a marketing campaign extolling Southern Vermont's virtues. But economic development doesn't happen without basics such as infrastructure being addressed. Otherwise, such an exercise might as well be a candy store shopping spree.

The third, less happy piece of news finds the Legislature yet again nickel-and-diming the Vermont State College System at a time when it should be investing boldly in workforce development.

Gov. Phil Scott was prepared to give VSC an additional $3 million with which to forestall increases in tuition - not nearly the five-year, $25 million investment college presidents sought, but better than nothing. The House agreed with Scott.

But the State Senate inexplicably cut that to a $2.5 million base budget increase and $500,000 in one-time funds. That in turn led VSC Chancellor Jeb Spaulding to declare that such funds would not be used to hold down tuition after all.

Spaulding may well be frustrated by the state Senate's hostility towards VSC (and what else could explain its motivation at this point?). And he's absolutely correct that one-time funds should not be used for expenses. Still, if the state gives VSC even one extra dollar, it should be applied to holding down tuition and fees for incoming students. Politics can wait another day; Vermont needs educated workers.

In the meantime, the state Senate has some explaining to do.


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