Category Archives: Business

Here’s One VEGI That’s Bad For You

State Auditor Doug Hoffer has issued a damning indictment of the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive, or VEGI for short. He has, in the past, pointed out the fundamental flaws in the program: the “but for” test at its foundation is impossible to prove and routinely ignored, employers who get these “job creation” grants often fail to actually create jobs, grantees sometimes cut operations or even leave the area despite getting the grants. And while the incentives are big money for the state, they’re peanuts for big employers and they really don’t incentivize anything.

We know that. What we didn’t know — or shall I say, I didn’t know — is that the program is run completely independently by an appointed board. There is no provision in state law for any oversight or review of granting decisions. You can’t take it to court, either. And that board often flouts its own standards. It’s the Wild West.

Funny, this is exactly why Gov. Phil Scott vetoes bill after bill — he decries decision-making by state entities without any legislative or executive review. One would think he’d be leading the charge for VEGI reform. But he’s not, because he’s just fine with giving bags of money to businesses with no strings attached.

Just imagine if a welfare program worked that way: a recipient claims a need but doesn’t have to provide evidence or seek employment. They just get the money.

That wouldn’t fly, would it now?

Continue reading

We Try to Preserve the Best of Vermont, But What About the Rest of It?

Vanishing traces of our history

We Vermonters spend a lot of time and energy safeguarding our state against the onslaught of modern life. In community after community, like-minded residents band together to fight against so-called “improvements” and to preserve the best of our beloved Vermont. But the best is not the only thing that warrants preservation. The derelict buildings, distressed roadways, junk-filled lawns, and the glorious suburban blight of Williston Road also contribute to making Vermont such a special place, They bring life and complexity to what might otherwise be a sterile two-dimensional cartoon.

That’s where we come in, my friends. We are Montpelierites Organized for the Preservation of Eyesores, or MOPE for short. We’re not here to support the Statehouse or Hubbard Park. Other people do that. We’re here to fight for the more mundane aspects of our beloved capital city. Think of us as the slightly better-organized equivalent of those people in Burlington who file lawsuits against anything and everything. Thanks in part to them, The Pit continues to be a familiar blight in the heart of the Queen City.

MOPE came into being after the tragic removal of a long-established junkyard on Barre Street. It was a familiar part of our city’s landscape, a small reminder of our gritty industrial heritage. And then, suddenly, after only a few decades of battle, it was gone. We’ll never get it back.

Take a gander at the street scene above. Those faint orange patches are the remnants of the BLACK LIVES MATTER motto painted on State Street in 2020, when the killing of George Floyd galvanized a nationwide movement. The paint has faded over time, but what remains is a testament to that most Vermontish of pastimes: the empty gesture. If another winter goes by, there may be noting left at all. We must act now to save these precious smudges!

And no, we don’t want it repainted. We want it as is.

Many other such treasures are under threat, due to the well-meaning plans of property owners and bureaucrats and other meddlers who don’t understand the importance of saving Montpelier exactly how it is right now.

When it comes to change in the capital city, MOPE says NOPE!

Continue reading

It Was All So Easy Back Then

I dunno, sounds like socialism

There is still much more to be written about the Scott administration’s VERAP mess. (Whether our ever-diminishing political press will cover it or not, we’ll see. Anyone filed a public records request yet? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?)

What’s clear so far is that the administration somehow failed to discover that the emergency rental assistance program was running out of money until drastic action was required to prevent it from going immediately bust. Or possibly they discovered it earlier and covered it up until it was too late for anything other than emergency action. (That’s what a public records request could determine. Bueller?)

But there’s another whole dimension to this situation, and it has to do with the perils of bounty. Remember way back in 2021 and 2022, when Vermont was (metaphorically) flooded with federal Covid relief funds? Yeah, those were good times.

And what happens in good times? Prudence is abandoned. Abundance seems endless even when you know damn well it’s not. Policymakers in the administration, with buy-in from the Legislature, made a bunch of choices about how to spend all that money.

In retrospect, some of those choices look awfully unwise.

Continue reading

About That Amazing Art Installation…

“Oh, great!” was my initial reaction to news of a massive art installation planned for the Essex Experience, a rather depressing retail sprawl just off Route 2A and Highway 289. The project, named Babaroosa, is inspired by the insanely successful Meow Wolf multisensory environments in Santa Fe, Denver, and Las Vegas.

Creators Teresa and Robert Davis promise “a labyrinth of over 60 rooms intricately woven through a 20,000 square foot complex.” It might sound like an artistic fever dream, but it’s got some serious money behind it. They’ve secured $7.25 million in loans from the Vermont Economic Development Authority and the Vermont State Employees Credit Union. Essex Experience owner Peter Edelmann will contribute $5 million in real estate, about which more below. The Davises are raising nearly $11 million in investor equity.

I’m looking forward to a visit if it comes to pass. However… the location is a terrible place to put a major tourist attraction.

The Davises foresee a half million visitors a year. Seems like a stretch, but Meow Wolf has become an entertainment phenomenon in a few short years. Let’s take their word for it.

The most popular tourist attraction in Vermont is the Ben & Jerry’s factory on Route 100 in Waterbury.with 350,000 visitors per year. It contributes substantially to the horrendous traffic on Route 100, but at least it’s only a short hop from the interstate.

The Essex Experience is six miles north of I-89 Exit 12. Doesn’t sound like much, but those six miles include the sprawling mallage just off the freeway, the busy US-2/2A intersection, a crawl into Essex, the Five Corners junction, and another crawl to 289. Virtually all of it is two-lane road. It takes 15-20 minutes to make the trip if traffic is unusually light.

I know because I made the trip in 16 minutes on Monday morning at about 10:00 a.m. Rush hour was over, and retail traffic had yet to pick up. Still, traffic moved consistently below the speed limit — which varied from 25 to 40 mph.

The Davises are talking about nearly doubling traffic along that route. Yikes.

Continue reading

“Some Call You the Elite. I Call You My Base.”

It was one of the signal moments of the George W. Bush presidency. The leader of all Americans yukking it up with the rich and powerful, making sport over his assiduous cosseting of The Ruling Class.

Well, it’s looking more and more like Gov. Phil Scott’s heart is in the same place.

On Thursday, Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle sent a memo to the Vermont business community on the subject of the pandemic. I guess she’s proud of it, because her agency also released it to the press. I’m not sure she should be; the memo is a glimpse into the real priorities of the Scott administration, and helps explain his refusal to consider any steps that might interrupt the flow of commerce.

Kurrle’s memo urges businesses to take steps to limit the further spread of the virus. This indicates that despite its public optimism, the administration is seriously worried about the next phase of the pandemic.

The most telling line in the entire thing: “Should we see an influx of positive test results, it could impact your ability to operate.”

Not “it could spread suffering and even death among Vermonters.” Not “it is likely to take an outsized toll on the most vulnerable among us.” Nope. The big concern is that businesses might have to limit operations or even shut down. Oh, the humanity!

Kurrle begins with obsequious praise for business leaders who “stepped up” in the face of the coronavirus. She wrote of “your sacrifices” — not those of front-line workers or the suddenly unemployed or the vulnerable elderly, but the real heroes of the pandemic: our bosses. “You rose above fear and frustration and acted without knowing when you would open your doors again,” Kurrle wrote. “Thank you for all you have done for our state.”

Gag me with a spoon.

Continue reading

The Bloated Corpse of Bruce Lisman’s Political Career Emerges From the Stygian Depths, Emits a Gas Bubble, Sinks Back Into the Murk From Whence It Came

Oh wait, sorry, that’s Swamp Thing

Once upon a time, there was a retired Wall Street executive named Bruce Lisman*. After his investment firm cratered in the Collapse of 2008, he moved to Vermont and turned his attention to politics. (He should have checked with Rich Tarrant or Jack McMullen on how that tends to work out.) First, he launched a putatively nonpartisan advocacy group called Campaign for Vermont Prosperity. It was usually referred to as “Campaign for Vermont” in an apparent effort to camouflage Lisman’s pro-business agenda.

*Who may or may not have been thoroughly skewered in the movie “The Big Short.”

CFV accomplished little besides spending a goodly portion of Lisman’s fortune. It put out the occasional paper, held sparsely-attended policy forums, did a bit of lobbying, and paid some college students to show the CFV flag at public events. (I dubbed them “Lisketeers.”) There was precious little grass in CFV’s roots.

A few years later, Lisman made the seemingly inevitable run for governor. He spent heavily on his campaign but ran into a buzzsaw named Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who beat him in the Republican primary by 21 percentage points.

That was the end of Lisman’s political aspirations. He stopped bankrolling CFV, which somehow continued to exist as a center-right, pro-business advocacy group. Some well-meaning people are involved in CFV, but honestly, itbarely makes a ripple in Vermont politics. Whenever CFV does something, I find myself asking “Oh, are you still here?”

CFV’s website is laden with position papers and press releases dated from 2014 and 2015. It does occasionally burp out some new content, as it did last week with a “New Report on Pension Issues.” And though I run the risk of killing a gnat with an elephant gun, I feel compelled to expose this piece of half-assed propaganda. You know, just in case someone takes it seriously.

Continue reading

So Much Horse Hockey in Such a Small Paddock

Honestly, I wouldn’t expect our area Chambers of Commerce to do anything but support GlobalFoundries in its bid to operate its own utility, thus sidestepping the Global Warming Solutions Act and other state rules and regulations. The Chambers are on the side of business, after all, and any threat to GF’s presence in Essex Junction is a threat to the region’s economy as a whole — including the Chambers’ constituencies. But this toxic little opinion piece from the Vermont and Lake Champlain Chambers plus the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation is an exercise in desperation and deception.

The thesis, as stated in the headline above, is that GlobalFoundries “will help combat climate change.” Huh. So exempting GF from the GWSA will help us fight climate change? Do tell.

In order to prove this unlikely theory, Cioffi et al. proceed to put their thumbs on the scale at every opportunity, spinning out unlikely scenarios full of conditional clauses while offering no evidence whatsoever that the deal will be a blow against climate change.

Let’s run through the deceptions, shall we?

Continue reading

I Realize We Can’t Be First All the Time, But Can We Please Be First a Little More Often?

Ah, Vermont, home of Bernie, cradle of progressivism, always in the vanguard of positive change.

Or so we like to believe.

In reality, more often than not we lag behind other jurisdictions. And I’ve got not one, not two, but three examples to share.

First, we are now officially behind the Biden administration on the right to repair — which allows consumers to act as if they own the stuff they buy. Second and third, the state of Maine has enacted two bills that put Vermont in the shade. Maine has imposed a virtual ban on the use of PFAS chemicals (so-called “forever chemicals”), the compounds that have created a huge mess in the Bennington area. Also, Maine has passed “extended product responsibility” legislation that makes manufacturers responsible for the ultimate fate of their product packaging.

So why are we behind in these areas? Well, all three touch on corporate interests. Our lawmakers tend to wither and fade when exposed to testimony from the business community. Besides, these are exactly the kinds of bills that Gov. Scott frequently vetoes over vague concerns about competitiveness or costs.

Continue reading

Some Rich Guy is Buying Up Southeast Vermont

Until today, I’d never heard of Paul (nee Pavel) Belogour, a native of Belarus who’s made a fortune in international investing and related software. Now, he’s the incoming owner of three newspapers in southern Vermont: the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner, and Manchester Journal. The big prizes are the Reformer and Banner, the only two daily newspapers south of Rutland.

This is either a really good thing or a really bad thing. When an oligarch swoops in and buys media outlets, it may be out of a true sense of obligation to support journalism. The owner’s deep pockets can counter the effects of the news business’ decline. Or it might just be a matter of collecting trophies and buying influence with little regard to the health of the publications. On the rich-guy scale, this purchase amounts to spare change.

Oh, and his native country is a corrupt dictatorship which ranks… let’s see… 158th on Reporters Without Borders’ ranking of 180 countries. RWB noted that Belarus is “the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel.” Let’s hope Mr. Belogour doesn’t practice his homeland’s approach to the press.

The Reformer and Banner have been circling the drain for some time. How they’ve survived the pandemic on top of all that, I have no idea. But it’s not surprising that Massachusetts-based New England Newspapers, which bought the papers a few years back with an eye toward enhancing the bare-bones operations, has now decided to sell out.

There is another dimension to this. Belogour has been buying up properties in southeast Vermont at a rapid clip. He’s well on his way to becoming a real economic force in the region. And now he’s going to control the daily newspaper? That’s troubling.

So let’s look at the available Google trail on Mr. Belogour, shall we?

Continue reading

Call Dr. Levine, We’ve Got a Full-Fledged Stupidemic On Our Hands

Well, geez. I already had enough material for another edition of the Veepie Awards on Friday, and then the weekend brought a fresh outbreak of The Stupid. So before any more cases are diagnosed, let’s roll out our second-ever awards for Outstanding Stupidity On Public Display…

The We’ve Always Done It This Way, and We’re Going to Keep Doing It This Way Until the Sun is a Cold, Dark Husk Award goes to House leadership for continuing the barnacle-encrusted tradition of appointing one Republican to a committee chairship, no matter how small the Republican caucus. This time it may just bite ’em in the butt. And, more painfully, bite unemployed Vermonters with children.

As reported by VTDigger’s James Finn, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee is likely to eliminate an additional $50-per-week to unemployment benefits for jobless Vermonters with children, included by the Senate in a bill addressing UI benefits and the unemployment trust fund. This is the committee with the obligatory token Republican chair, Rep. Michael Marcotte. He told Finn that he’s skeptical about the parental bonus, and his committee may strip it from the bill.

We don’t know how other Commerce members feel, because none are quoted in the article. But the chair sets the committee agenda, and has the power to block anything they choose. Heck of a time for a Republican to occupy that seat.

I get the desire for bipartisanship, or at least the plausible appearance of same. I could understand giving a chairship or two to a minority if there’s a close partisan split in the House. But why give away a leadership post to a party that can barely win one-third of available seats? Republicans know it’s a token gesture. It doesn’t stop them from feeling abused and ignored by the majority. It accomplishes nothing. Or, in this case, less than nothing.

After the jump: Stupid Bar Tricks, Art Malappreciation, and a comms guy makes a dumb comms mistake.

Continue reading