Report from Montpelier: Encouraging tech business in Vermont

Kate Webb
Kate Webb

By Representative Kate Webb

As we look to the future, why have successful businesses chosen Vermont, what keeps them here, and what can we learn from their experiences? I had an opportunity to hear from businesses in the tech and manufacturing sectors last Friday and as well as last summer. When asked how they got here, each had a unique story, but all underscored the importance of the quality of life offered in Vermont.

Tourism continues to be the driving force bringing people to Vermont. During those visits, many in the tech industry began to think that perhaps they could actually run their businesses here as well. Dimitri Gardner, cofounder of Global Z, had vacationed here and enjoyed our quality of life, natural resources, and powerful sense of community. David Brown of Manufacturing Information Systems settled his business in Woodstock for similar reasons. In contrast, Lisa Groeneveld of Logic Supply had grown up in Barre, moved away for 18 years, developed a business idea, and then realized she and her husband could actually run the business in her home state of Vermont. The four founders of Competitive Computing emerged from the closing of Digital Equipment, while Ed Mendizabal of DevSupport made use of the talent emerging from Champlain College’s video gaming program.

While each indicated our natural beauty, quality of life, and family-friendly lifestyle were plusses, what else did these businesses need to remain here? Non-negotiable was access to high-speed Internet, particularly fiber. Start-ups need affordable business space, while manufacturers and others need easy access to highways and airports. Although Vermont is not able to offer the lucrative financial packages available in New York, many speakers noted that in Vermont, “state government listens” and “helped to be part of the decision making.” Our federal delegation was also acknowledged.

To be competitive, successful businesses tell us we must continue to improve and expand broadband, particularly if we are to attract and keep business outside of Chittenden County. We must address the call for affordable housing. And we must continue to build an educated and skilled workforce to fill jobs that employers tell us go wanting. Young people are asking for transportation that doesn’t require owning a car. And finally, business leaders ask us to be mindful of tax increases and mandates that upset predictability and stability.

And what can we do as citizens? If tourism is the driving force in bringing people to think about settling in Vermont and we are often their tour guides, let’s emphasize the positives about living and working here and not dwell on the negatives. Talk it up. Who knows what the next big business will be in Vermont? I don’t think any of us 20 years ago would have thought it would be a coffee company.

My leadership responsibilities often make it difficult to meet on Tuesday mornings. I am available to meet most of the day on Monday by appointment and over the weekend. I am also available by email or phone during the week and have a pretty good track record of getting back. or (802) 233-7798.