Category Archives: Business

Arrivederci, Mitchells

Big splashy headline in my morning paper: “Mitchells Agree to Sell Times Argus.” Actually, they’re selling the whole megillah: the Times Argus, Rutland Herald and associated print and online media entities.

You see that headline and you fear the worst: a big national chain like Gannett that’d commodify and multiplatform the papers into mush, or a low-budget media outfit that would strip-mine the papers into irrelevance.

But no, the Mitchell Empire is being sold to a guy. One guy, not some faraway corporation. The guy is Reade Brower, who seemingly owns just about every newspaper in the state of Maine. From a 2015 account of his purchase of MaineToday Media, which cemented his dominant position in Maine journalism:

MaineToday Media publishes the print editions of the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Portland Press Herald, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, and The Coastal Journal in Bath. MaineToday Media also operates the news websites MaineToday.com, PressHerald.com, and CentralMaine.com.

Brower, a longtime resident of Camden, currently owns The Free Press and Courier Publications – which publishes the Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald, and The Republican Journal in Belfast.

That passage, you should know, appeared in The Free Press — owned by Reade Brower. And there’s the rub: when you do a Google search for “Reade Brower,” you get a whole lot of links to articles from Brower-owned media operations.

As far as I can tell, which isn’t far, Brower is no Sheldon Adelson. He didn’t wade into the newa business to further his own interests. He built his empire bit by bit, and his origins are in printing and marketing, not casinos or fossil fuels. He seems to have a legitimate desire to preserve print journalism and find ways for it to survive the modern era.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Is this the most useless policy review ever?

Hey, here’s some good news. One of Vermont’s more problematic job-creation programs is getting a policy review.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends.

The program is the Vermont Employment Growth Initiative, or VEGI for short. It provides incentives to employers who grow jobs in Vermont. The most frequent VEGI beneficiary is Keurig Green Mountain, which has raised eyebrows in some quarters, (“Fascinating,” I have found myself saying with left brow cocked, “but highly illogical.”) That’s because KGM’s rapid growth was fueled, not by the state’s generosity, but by its then patent-protected K-Cup brewing system.

Since its patents expired, it has struggled to maintain market share, bungled two key product rollouts, and — VEGI grants or no VEGI grants — laid off hundreds of Vermonters.

So yeah, I’m all for a review of this program. Unfortunately, this is a fox/henhouse situation. The people doing the review are members of the Vermont Economic Progress Council, the panel that awards the VEGI grants in the first place.

Uh-huh, they’re reviewing their own work.

That ought to go well.

But wait, there’s more!

Continue reading

Pat Moulton has a great idea.

Commerce Secretary Patricia Moulton was far too busy to comment on the sudden, unexplained departure of Gene Fullam as head of Vermont’s EB-5 office, but she did manage to make time for a live interview on Thursday’s “Vermont Edition.” Subject: EB-5.

Inexplicably, host Jane Lindholm didn’t ask about Fullam’s departure. A deal, perhaps?

UPDATE 7/23: Got this Tweet from Lindholm:

Immediately preceding Moulton was State Auditor Doug Hoffer, who’s been critical of the grant programs administered by her agency. Among other things, he pointed out that it’s impossible to prove whether the state grants actually create economic activity that wouldn’t exist in their absence.

And then Moulton came on and admitted that those programs operate on the honor system. Regarding the Vermont Economic Growth Initiative, she said:

… we believe the CEOs, when they sign an application, that the material is true and correct.

Aww. Isn’t that sweet. “We believe the CEOs.”

Because a CEO would never lie to us.

Continue reading

The limits of credulity

Okay, so after less than one year on the job, the director of Vermont’s embattled EB-5 program has resigned. And nobody is saying boo about it. No explanation, no praise for the departed, just No Comment across the board.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move it along.

Well, sorry, but if there’s one area of state government where That Dog Won’t Hunt, it’s the scandal-plagued EB-5 program.

Plus, we’re not talking about some schmo plucked from bureaucratic obscurity to caretake EB-5 through the fag end of the Shumlin administration. When he was hired in August 2015, Gene Fullam appeared to be the idea candidate.

Continue reading

Jobs for the Boys (and Girls)

Patricia Moulton just became the latest high-ranking rat to leave the Good Ship Shumlin. The Commerce Secretary, under whose watch the EB-5 scandal went on undetected for years, has herself a soft landing spot as interim president of Vermont Technical College.

Moulton is one of those seemingly unmovable fixtures of Montpelier life — a species that moves effortlessly between government, private sector, and government-related nonprofits. She’s served in the last two administrations, Douglas and Shumlin; and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turned up in a hypothetical Phil Scott cabinet.

What are her credentials to lead an educational institution? Pish tosh. Who needs relevant experience when you’re one of the cross-partisan In Crowd?

“… I can bring to that institution great knowledge about education and workforce for the state of Vermont,” Moulton said in an interview Thursday.

Well, that’s one way to spin it.

Continue reading

Hey look: another failing business-incentive program!

Remember a couple years ago when New York launched “Startup NY,” an ambitious, expensive business incentive program? Vermont officials looked on with envy and concern as a program they couldn’t possibly match went into effect — with a barrage of slick TV ads saturating the Vermont airwaves, no less.

Republicans used Startup NY as a cudgel when attacking Governor Shumlin for not being business-friendly. Shumlin used it as something of a bargaining chip to get the Legislature to approve his desired incentive programs.

Well, the Cuomo administration just issued its required annual status report on Startup NY — months after the due date, and released at 4:30 pm on Friday afternoon heading into the Fourth of July weekend.

Yep, a newsdump. And yep, the report was bad news.

The companies that moved into the StartUp NY network of tax-free zones have created just 408 of the more than 4,100 jobs they promised to add to the state’s employment rolls within five years, according to a long-delayed report released late Friday by Empire State Development.

Well, now we know why the report was “long-delayed” and released at the last possible moment before a three-day weekend. Nobody in the Cuomo administration wanted to face questions about it.

Continue reading

An utterly predictable failure

Oh dear. Keurig Green Mountain, our hometown manufacturer of environmentally wasteful consumer products, is cutting back. About a hundred workers will lose their jobs in Vermont following a decision I’ve been predicting from the very start.

KGM is killing Keurig Kold, its overpriced, slow, inconvenient carbonated-beverage delivery system. The layoffs are directly related to that business decision — although any minute now, I expect a press release from Phil Scott blaming the Shumlin administration. Because that’s Leadership!

Among the Keurig Kold’s many problems:

— an initial list price of nearly $400

— beverage pods that cost a buck twenty-five apiece — and make EIGHT OUNCES of soda.

— Producing an eight-ounce serving takes a minimum of 90 seconds.

— The machine itself is bulky — larger in all dimensions than any Keurig coffeemaker. It weighs 23 pounds. Takes up a lot of counter space.

— The water chamber needs to be pre-chilled to 39 degrees, which takes at least two hours. You’d have to preplan your soda breaks, or burn electricity to keep the thing running all the time.

Continue reading