Promoting economic development in 2015

By Representatives Kate Webb and Joan Lenes

Vermont’s economy depends on quality of employers and an excellent workforce. Continuing with work begun last year, the 2015 economic development bills focus on connecting employees and employers and workforce development. They also provide necessary updates to our successful insurance industry, marketing Vermont, protecting consumers, among others. The following is a summary of some those efforts:

Workforce development: Many employers are challenged to fill well-paying positions, and many Vermonters do not have the skills to match these job openings. Last year the Legislature put Vermont Scholars and Internship programs in place.  This year, the economic bill expanded these programs to include independent colleges such as Middlebury and Champlain and extended training to help retrain workers who would not otherwise receive such training within the normal course of business. It also directs the Department of Labor and the Agencies of Education and Commerce to align training with high-wage, high-skill and high-demand employment opportunities through a thorough look at our Career Technical Education system. Changes to the Vermont Economic Growth Initiative or VEGI makes it easier for employers to access incentives.

Cloud Tax: The Cloud tax was repealed effective July 1. This will help our emerging tech center and give us a competitive advantage in the region.

Marketing Vermont: Adding to Vermont’s reputation as a worldwide leader in tourism, Vermont is also rapidly developing a reputation as a place for entrepreneurs and innovators to start and grow a business. Action this year expands the mission of the Department of Tourism and Marketing to focus on economic development marketing and directed funds toward that effort.

Strong Insurance Economy, Quality Corporations: Vermont continues to maintain a strong national presence in our regulation of the insurance industry, primarily due to the clarity of our rules and speedy service from the Department of Financial Regulation. Insurance bills implement a variety of technical changes to improve transparency and maintain our first place standing in the captive insurance industry. We also modernized our Limited Liability Corporation law and Uniform Commercial code to make Vermont an easier place to organize and run businesses.

Telecommunications: For several years, the Legislature has worked with private industry, federal partners and regulatory authorities to improve high-speed Internet and cellular service throughout the state. Building on last year’s efforts to meet connectivity goals, the Legislature instituted new governance, duties and oversight in the newly named Division for Telecommunications and Connectivity. This will include recommendations for appropriate access speeds for publicly funded projects, apportionment of connectivity funds and grant awards as well as state policy and development plans.

Help for First-time Homebuyers: Homeownership continues to be the most reliable source of individual wealth accumulation and equity for the future; however first-time homebuyers often delay purchasing due to initial fees and down payment costs. To help young families and stimulate the market, the State will help first-time homebuyers with down payment assistance through transferable tax credits.

Changes to Liquor Laws: The Legislature responded to requests to allow second-class permit retailers, such as Village Wine and Coffee, to sell fortified wines. Tasting rooms will have more options and special event permitting will be available in more locations. The new law also opens an investigation of our liquor control system to see how it can be modernized to become more efficient, effective, and profitable while protecting public health and safety.

Consumer Protection: The Legislature adopted a suite of consumer protections to address current needs and look proactively at the future of commerce in Vermont. These protections make important changes to rent-to-own businesses, automatic dialing disclosure fees, consumer litigation funding, discount membership programs and security breach notices.

Next week we will address changes to water quality and education law. You may contact us in the off-session at kwebb@leg.state.vt.us and jlenes@leg.state.vt.us.