The Vermont Futures Project
The Vermont Futures Project promotes the long-term economic health of Vermont that provides opportunity for Vermonters. Through leadership, research and education, the Vermont Futures Project seeks to inform the conversation about Vermont’s economic future and demonstrate how a healthy economy contributes to Vermont’s vibrant communities and unique quality of life.
The Vermont Dashboard
The Vermont Dashboard is a snapshot of the current economic health of Vermont that gives leaders important metrics to understand and measure progress in securing Vermont’s future. The Vermont Dashboard’s key indicators benchmark Vermont’s economic growth to stimulate conversation and prompt action that will achieve measurable and positive outcomes.
(From Commerce Connections Issue: November 2016)
The Vermont Futures Project has articulated six target areas where progress is needed to realize a Vision for a healthy Vermont economy. Our focus on economic data has shaped discussions, from the Rutland Young Professionals’ Summit to election-related events and conversations statewide. Our data and targets are being used to help regions formulate their own local goals, and to help track progress for State of Vermont marketing campaign.
by Jennifer Stromsten
We launched the economic dashboard on the Vermont Futures Project web site last January, shortly after we initiated conversations statewide– talking with Vermonters about what the data tells us about where we are, where we’re headed, and where we want to go. From those conversations, a vision took shape. We set growth targets to help measure progress towards a vision of creating long-term opportunity and prosperity in a way that preserves and enhances our quality of life. The targets focus on six key areas:
- Increasing talent supply;
- Raising household income;
- Expanding housing options;
- Strengthening grand list values;
- Growing our mid-sized firms; and
- Improving economic productivity.
We have been inspired by how many people and organizations are eager to engage. Statewide collaboration is critical for Vermont’s economic future. As we approach the end of our first year, the Vermont Futures Project has achieved great success including:
- The Agency of Commerce and Community Development issued its Economic Development Marketing Plan incorporating the Vermont Futures Project economic dashboard dials in its metrics.
- A community in southern Vermont used our data on the workforce supply gap to begin addressing the need in their area for skilled workers by creating a marketing plan aimed at converting tourists to Vermonters.
- The Rutland Young Professionals invited us to be a presenter at the outstanding Rutland Young Professionals Summit in mid-October.
- In the final weeks of the election cycle we are hearing candidates talk about the need for more workers and other key targets like housing, so we can see that our work is helping focus attention on the economy.
Please take a closer look at our growth targets and the workforce supply gap. We will be releasing A Vision for Vermont’s Economy next month and can’t wait speak more with you about realizing a vision for Vermont’s future at the Vermont Economic Conference.
(From Commerce Connections Issue: October 2016)
The Vermont Futures Project is preparing to release “A Vision for Vermont’s Economy” which contains six strategic growth targets for the state. Taken together, progress in these will reinforce a positive cycle of balanced growth. At this time, these indicators largely reflect a negative cycle with key components, such as limited workforce and housing, negatively impacting Vermont’s economic health.
The Vermont Futures Project is preparing to a release A Vision for Vermont’s Economy. It contains six strategic growth targets for the state. It is clear from the data as well as conversations on the ground that the economy requires attention. In failing to address urgent needs, we face serious risks.
For instance, we have identified a large workforce supply gap. This means jobs are going unfilled. Organizations deprived of talent they need to compete and innovate simply will not thrive in the long run.
We need our businesses and institutions to prosper. Without a healthy economy, we can’t provide opportunity to Vermonters. Worsening economic conditions threaten quality of life and undermine our ability to invest in ourselves. Needs are continually outpacing resources. We have been accommodating ourselves to an economy that never fully regains strength. Instead, Vermont needs to grow.
In a negative cycle, certain trends and conditions reinforce one another. We can instead create a positive, virtuous cycle of healthy economic growth. In fact we must, if we are to secure for coming generations the quality of life so many of us have enjoyed.
We can bridge Vermont’s talent supply gap and commit to ensuring every employer has people with the skills and education a 21st century economy requires. Successful organizations powered by great people are the foundation of a dynamic, growing economy. By developing a business climate Vermont can foster innovation and investment that will attract new talent, new businesses, and new investment.
We must take seriously today’s urgency, which threatens to become a crisis. Healthy economic growth statewide is essential to produce dynamic local and regional economies. Vibrant communities are the places that make us love where we live – whether we are starting out or looking to settle down, retiring or visiting, new to Vermont or coming home. Please stay tuned for the release of A Vision for Vermont’s Economy in the coming weeks.
(From Commerce Connections Issue: September 2016)
To successfully compete against other regions for the talent we need, Vermont can leverage great quality of life to attract people who value work-life balance. With a strong existing base of people who work from home, it makes sense to focus on increasing the number remote workers. This means ensuring they have everything they need: access to highways and airports, robust cell service and superior broadband service. By creating the right conditions we can attract ‘footloose’ workers and give Vermont a competitive edge in the talent marketplace.
Vermont’s economic challenges, including our workforce constraints, are not unique. The question is whether we can successfully compete against other regions to attract more great people and businesses to invest in a future here. We can leverage quality of life to attract those who value work-life balance. What else creates a competitive edge with people who consider moving to, returning to, or staying in Vermont?
One group to consider is telecommuters, or home-based workers, whose ranks have been growing steadily. Nowadays, most are employees of a company, not self-employed, splitting time between the workplace and a home office. Vermont ranks top 10 nationally in our share of workers who telecommute. Ensuring good conditions for telecommuters is critical to Vermont’s economic health because it:
- Helps employers attract and retain great people by offering flexibility and the option to work from home.
- Can resolve the spousal employment challenge when firms recruit someone whose partner’s needs fit poorly with local opportunities.
- Imports talent, and often earnings, to Vermont.
- Supports highly educated workers and high-wage occupations.
- Bolsters Vermont’s tech sector and tech workforce.
- Welcomes people who can choose to live anywhere.
A recent survey of 10 best places for telecommuters emphasized factors mainly relating to affordability and amenities. Much of Vermont offers affordability or amenities. Moreover, many locations lack robust virtual and physical connectivity. The ability to live near airports and highways, with robust cell service and broadband, paired with Vermont’s quality of life constitutes a successful recipe to attract ‘footloose’ workers to Vermont.
(From Commerce Connections Issue: August 2016)
Vermont is a great place to live, work and play. The quality of life keeps people here, draws people home. Why are employers having such a hard time filling jobs? Why don’t more young people choose Vermont today? For Vermont to work for working Vermonters, we have to make sure the “value proposition” works too. This means focusing on what it takes to live well in Vermont, given wages and cost of living.
In Vermont even the hottest August days end in cool evenings, reminding us to enjoy the fleeting summer. Visitors who come here to enjoy some fresh air and fresh food remind us how lucky we are to have nature at our doorstep every day. We encourage people to think of Vermont as a place to play, but also to live and work. We need more young people, more talent, and in many towns just more residents.
The allure of Vermont endures as a place that offers a balance for working people and working families, a place where you can mountain bike before work each day, snowmobile all weekend, and raise healthy and happy children in a safe and beautiful setting. This is a place to set down roots, buy a home, start a business, build a life. But for working Vermonters the numbers have to work. Many economic conversations focus on the “value proposition” for retirees or affluent residents, whether state tax code is pushing them to Florida, or not. Other economic conversations focus on raising the floor for Vermonters living in poverty, by moving wages and benefits forward.
The size, stability and mobility of households in the middle of the income ladder gets very little airtime. Yet, Vermont’s economic future will be built on the success, or struggles, of average people. In the wake of news about yet another revenue downgrade, where disappointing state income tax revenues once again will force last-minute cuts, we must question Vermont’s increasing reliance on a small base of affluent taxpayers. It brings risk, risk we can mitigate with a deeper and stronger base of earners.
But right now, the value proposition for working Vermonters is weak. Too many working people are still unable to live well in Vermont. It’s time to pay attention to the equations that drive the choices of real people:
- Housing for renters and home-buyers takes a huge bite out of earnings
- Yet wages are low, in every sector
- Childcare is scarce, and expensive – see the latest report from LetsGrowKids
- And the complex tax code designed to raise the floor on quality of life means Vermont workers need not just 1 raise to improve their quality of life, they may need 10-20.
Vermont needs to focus on the economic success of those who work here, not just those who live and play in Vermont. In a slow-growth economy we have to pay attention to both sides of the equation – improving economic activity as well as the cost of living. The Futures Project is about looking ahead to the Vermont our children will live in. Most of Vermont is nearing retirement. That perspective is limiting our vision. We need to plan for a child born today to have more than a higher minimum wage.
Too many people can’t make numbers work to live in Vermont. While we argue about whether retirees are coming or going, young adults are going. They are choosing places where the tradeoffs don’t put them in the red. Whether it’s paying off student loans, paying off a home, or building towards their own retirement, working people are making hard choices in life, and we’re making it hard to choose Vermont. It’s not because they don’t ‘get it’. It’s because we don’t get it.
The Vermont Chamber Foundation creates a voice for Vermont’s long-term
economic health through sustained leadership and a commitment to research
and education that supports economic growth.