Daily Archives: May 20, 2015

Vermont: Hellhole or paradise?

There’s something of a disconnect on the Republican side of things when it comes to the health of Vermont’s business climate. On the one hand, it’s so disastrous that businesses are closing left and right, the rich are scoping out tax havens, and regular old workers are, in the words of Burlington school board member (and spectacularly unsuccessful House candidate) Scot Shumski’s Twitter feed, “fleeing” by “the thousands.”

Hardworking Vermonters in full flight mode

Hardworking Vermonters in full flight mode.

Which you’d think would show up in our Census figures, but never mind.

Funny thing about the notion that Vermont is a horrible place to do business. During the past Legislative session, Republicans threw their weight behind a proposal that came out of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s series of “economy pitch” sessions: the need for a marketing campaign that promotes Vermont as a great place for budding entrepreneurs and relocating businesses.

Well, which is it? A hellhole of taxation and regulation that doesn’t give a damn about the needs of business? Or a great place to work that just needs an image tweak?

Sorry, it can’t be both. If Vermont is really such a bad place for business, then you won’t attract entrepreneurs with catchy slogans and web videos. And even if you do attract some, won’t you be guilty of false advertising?

In truth, conservatives do damage to Vermont’s image with their constant drumbeat of negativity. Constructive criticism and new ideas are fine; across-the-board trashing is not. When Phil Scott launched his economy pitches, I was skeptical. I still don’t think they made a huge difference, but they did accomplish something important: they turned the conversation in a positive direction.

That’s a good thing for our political discourse. But it does undercut the right-wing narrative about Vermont.

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Small business should beware of joining the corporate army

A while back, I proposed that Vermont’s small retailers ought to open their own interest group. I suggested the Vermont Association of Independent Retailers, or VAIR for short.

The idea came to me while reading about their putative Montpelier representation, the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, helmed by the very effective Jim Harrison. One of his favorite techniques is to bring some mom-and-pop types to the Statehouse whenever there’s legislation that might touch on retail interests, such as the proposed sugary-beverage tax.

Truth is, Harrison gives a lot of lip service to the little guy, but his real clients are in Big Retail — the WalMarts, Hannafords, and Dollar Generals of the world. And quite often, the interests of Big Retail are at odds with what’s best for small business. Guys like Harrison draw a stark divide between the private sector and government; in fact, the real divide is frequently found between big retail and small. I would ask this of real independent retailers: which is the biggest threat to your existience? A change in state regulations, or the big boxes and dollar stores springing up all over the place?

This is also true in the broader business world. And in that field, there’s a thousand-pound lobbying gorilla called the National Federation of Independent Businesses, or NFIB. Which has a Vermont branch, helmed by veteran corporate lobbyist Shawn Shouldice. (Who also, I can’t help but note, does PR for Bruce Lisman.)

The NFIB sounds like a joint effort of all the mom-and-pops. It bills itself as “the voice of small business.”

Well, it’s not.

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