Category Archives: Business

Way Down In The Hole

[Not Exactly As Illustrated]

Brookfield Asset Management, the alleged developer of Burlington’s infamous hole in the ground, continues to be frustratingly vague about its plans and its timeline for actually building something on the former site of the Burlington Town Center. And folks, this could turn out to be the defining issue in the March 2021 city elections, when incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger is expected to seek a third term.

And, to craft the ultimate in mixed metaphors, that hole may become a millstone around his neck.

Demolition of the old mall began nearly two years ago. Original developer Don Sinex began boasting of big plans for the site way back in 2014. He tapped out earlier this year, and Brookfield stepped into the void.

(Sorry.)

(Although Sinex’s grand vision for Burlington CityPlace can, for shits and giggles, still be seen on its splashy website. Maybe cityplaceburlington.com been declared a historic monument or summat.)

City leaders are pressing Brookfield for some measure of certainty about its plans. Brookfield has failed to miss planning benchmarks since it took over the property. It presented sketches of a site plan to for the site to city council last month, but many crucial details remain to be filled in.

Weinberger, who was a loud and vocal supporter of Sinex and has now, a little more cautiously, tossed his hat into the Brookfield ring, is sounding a little antsy. Seven Days:

“We are looking for them to do more, quickly, to prove … that, in the end, it’s going to succeed,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said. “We are looking for some further confirmation on that.”

Good luck with that, Mr. Mayor. And good luck running for re-election if the hole is still a hole in early 2021. Which is not terribly farfetched; every step on a project of this scope is going to take time, especially in a micromanaging community like Burlington.

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State business grant gets flushed down the crapper

Bad news from down Bennington way, courtesy of The Banner:

With a two-paragraph note Thursday afternoon, a major Bennington employer for decades — Energizer — confirmed that the local factory will close.

Well, there go some nice manufacturing jobs in a community that’s taken more than its share of body blows. How many jobs is apparently a mystery; Energizer didn’t say, and The Banner couldn’t immediately find out. In 2015, the factory was downsized to an undisclosed extent (companies have learned to conceal the grim details of cutbacks and closings); at the time, per VTDigger, it employed “between 100 and 250 people.”

Sen. Dick Sears of Bennington learned of the plant’s closure — after the fact — in an email from a corporate stooge who offered hollow words of praise for “the years of productive engagement we have had with you and your office.”

That “productive engagement,” by the way, included a Vermont Training Program grant issued in April 2018 — only a year and a half ago. VTP provides taxpayer funds to cover up to 50 percent of training new workers or teaching new skills to existing workers.

I’m not sure, but I’m gonna guess here that Vermont had something a little more… uh, permanent in mind when it gave Energizer those dollars. Instead, the company didn’t even bother to inform state government until after it had publicly announced the plant closure.

Nice.

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Buy Local: It’s not just for pandering anymore

One of the more persistent strains of Philpuckey is his advocacy of Buying Local. He’s made it a regular theme of his Lite-Guvship, memorably captured in a front-page article in the Burlington Free Press last November that featured Phil Scott with his famous “Buy Local — It’s Not Just for Hippies Anymore” slogan.

(Which, first of all, “Buy Local” was never “just for hippies.” And second, it misunderstands the movement. Hippies were less concerned with where they bought their stuff, than with not buying stuff at all. It was an anti-consumption worldview. But hey, it’s just convenient shorthand for “long-haired weirdos”, right?)

“Buy Local” is an attractive pitch for Scott. It’s politically appealing, it reinforces his “real Vermonter” image and his status as a local business owner. It’s no-lose all the way around.

But coming from him, it’s effectively meaningless. Phil Scott may verbally support Buying Local, but if push comes to shove, he’ll opt for expediency. Proof: More than half his campaign’s total expenditures have gone to out-of-state firms and individuals. Latest example: a series of mass media buys since October 20, totaling $85,000, all going to out-of-state companies. That includes:

— $40,000 to D.C.-based Optimus Consulting, which has managed the Scott campaign’s media buys.

— $54,000 to Spectrum Marketing of Manchester, NH for “Media — Postcards.”

— $11,000 to SCM Associates of Dublin, NH, also for “Media — Postcards.”

Perhaps he needed some Washington Big Boys to buy spots on WCAX, but did he really need to go to New Hampshire for direct mail services?

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Exit the Puppet Master

Looks like someone’s gotten the ziggy at Free Press Media. Opening sentence of a story on the Free Press website:

Former Free Press Media President Jim Fogler is returning to his previous role, replacing Al Getler in the top job at the Burlington media company and newspaper.

The bulk of the article recaps Fogler’s career and describes what a great fit he is for the job. Getler, meanwhile? We do not speak of him. The only other reference to the apparently former president and publisher is this:

Getler was hired as president of Free Press Media in January 2015.

Oh well. Easy come, easy go. At least Al will have his ventriloquist sideline to fall back on.

GetlerVentriloquistNo, really. Here’s a screenshot from his sizzle reel.

 

That’s the stuff. Sad to say, you can see his mouth move when his puppets “speak.”

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Phil’s Conflict (UPDATED)

UPDATE: He did it! He chose Option 1A — he will sell his share in Dubois Construction if he wins the governorship. Full credit to him for doing the right thing. And no, I don’t feel sorry for him possibly having to exit the family firm he’s spent most of his adult life in; his share of the firm is worth two and a half million dollars. That’ll buy an awful lot of binkies. 

_____________________

Kudos to Mr. Leadership Phil Scott for unveiling his conflict-of-interest fix at the friendliest possible venue — his construction firm’s annual picnic. Ah yes: burgers, dogs, potato salad, Daddy Pops, frisbees, sack races, football tossin’, and the long-awaited announcement of how he will handle the inherent conflict of owning a firm that regularly bids on state contracts.

“One of these things is not like the others…”

This isn’t the first time he’s tried to settle this particular issue, which tells me his past solutions have failed to satisfy. The fact that he’ll make this announcement before a crowd of family, friends, and folks on his payroll doesn’t fill me with confidence about how he’ll handle it this time.

Heck, I don’t know if he’ll even take questions. Even if there is an opportunity, the occasion certainly won’t be conducive to aggressive questioning; any reporters who get uppity are likely to be shouted down by the Scottophiliac audience.

All of which leads me to expect some kind of half-assed, modestly tweaked version of his laughable “blind trust.” If so, well, he might have to try yet again.

In my mind, there are only two credible choices for him. That is, if he really wants to eliminate any appearance of conflict. I don’t expect him to choose either one.

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Want more development? Elect Phil Scott

There’s been a lot of talk about the tax incentives and budgetary targets in Phil Scott’s newly released economic plan. There’s been less coverage of parts of the plan that might actually have the greatest impact: a strongly pro-business orientation in how state government operates.

Regarding tax changes and budget cuts, Scott would have to work with large — possibly veto-proof — Democratic majorities in the Legislature. But a lot of the pro-business orientation is a matter of executive authority. “Governor Scott” could do a lot to make his administration business-friendly without any legislative input.

And let there be no doubt: Phil Scott would be a very business-friendly Governor. So much so, that it calls into question his image of political moderation.

There’s one item that leaped off the page when I was reading his economic plan. He foresees a dramatic re-orientation in the Act 250 permitting process. First, he would establish a 90-day time limit for major permitting applications, and a four-week limit for “minor licensing and permitting.”

I don’t know how he plans to enforce the time limits. And given his vagueness in other areas, I imagine he doesn’t know either.

And then there’s the second thing, which could be even bigger. He wants “Act 250 permit specialsts to serve as pro-growth guides.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

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Phil Scott by the pound

Y’know, if I didn’t think Phil Scott was a different kind of politician, a straight shooter who refuses to indulge in gamesmanship, I’d congratulate him for a decent bit of trickeration today. See, on the morning of WDEV Radio’s Tunbridge Fair debate (the one he refused to take part in), he held a press conference to unveil a major policy initiative.

Complete coincidence, I’m sure. Because Phil Scott would never resort to such shenanigans.

The big unveil was Scott’s “comprehensive blueprint for economic growth.” And it seems \designed to counter the criticism that his campaign is short on specifics. It weighs in at a robust 56 pages — although that includes roughly 14 pages of large photos, mainly featuring Phil Scott.

The document includes a “12-part Economic Growth Plan” with “more than 50 specific ideas, initiatives and proposals.”

Trying too hard, are we? Looks like a high schooler trying to pad the ol’ word count.

Most of those 50 ideas have been previously announced. Some appear to have little to do with the economy, including “Restoring Faith &: Trust in State Government” and “Addressing Vermont’s Opiate Epidemic.”

Some of the “specific ideas” are fundamentally nebulous, like his assertion that he will “encourage and support all employers” and “retain and recruit the best medical professionals.”

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