Tag Archives: Agency of Commerce and Community Development

The definition of insanity

Doug Hoffer is at it again, pissing in the cornflakes of conventional wisdom. His latest report offers a detailed picture of something we already knew: The value of Vermont’s Remote Worker Grant Program is essentially unquantifiable.

The program offers up to $10,000 to people who relocate to Vermont and work remotely for employers elsewhere. It has generated a ton of publicity and very little in the way of actual returns. Scott administration apparatchiks boast of attracting new residents — a grand total of, um, 110 grantees and 290 new residents.

To quote my favorite comics character, Big Nate: “Whoop-de-dang-do.” That’s basically a rounding error in Vermont’s demographics.

There are other problems with the program’s performance, in addition to the paltry numbers. Almost half the grantees have settled in Chittenden County, which doesn’t need the boost. And the Commerce Agency’s own figures shows that most grantees would have moved here anyway. At best, the grant was only one factor in their decisions, and there’s no way to tell how many of those new residents would have decided against Vermont if the program didn’t exist.

Hoffer also points to the deliberately lax standards for awarding grants, established by the legislature on the principle of “keep it simple and get the money out the door.”

See, we must expect rigorous documentation and enforcement in social service programs, but Heaven forbid we should bother well-educated, white-collar recipients of economic development initiatives. Or businesses that draw on incentives for job training or expansion.

Because pretty much all of Commerce’s highly-touted programs are basically emperors with no clothes. Or, as Hoffer put it, “there is little reliable performance data about some of the State’s largest economic development programs.”

He closes the introduction to his new report with the destined-to-be-ignored clarion call: “When considering funding for Vermont’s economic development programs, we strongly encourage decision makers to take an evidence-based approach.”

Yeah, right. When pigs fly.

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Plagiarism is the least significant problem with ACCD report

Ouch, this is embarrassing:

In a report submitted last week to the Vermont legislature, the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development appears to have plagiarized three news stories and used photographs without permission.

Since we’re discussing plagiarism here, let me first disclose that the previous paragraph was written by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz.

The ACCD report was a review of the remote worker grant program — known in the vernacular as the $10,000 giveaway. It offers up to $10,000 to people who relocate to Vermont and work remotely for out-of-state employers. The plagiarized material profiled three recipients waxing poetic about their new lives in Vermont. Large swaths of text were lifted from reporting by Seven Days, CNBC and CNN. It also used photos taken by ace freelance photographer Jeb Wallace-Brodeur without attribution or payment. Which is how a freelancer makes a living, don’t ya know. (Note: ACCD has updated the online version of the report, giving proper credit to the media outlets.)

This is a bad look and an embarrassment for ACCD. And Commissioner Joan Goldstein did herself no favor by labeling the plagiarism as an unintentional “oversight.” (I mean, c’mon, whoever put together the report had to know where the material came from. Someone clearly, knowingly, took an ethical shortcut.)

But in the focus on plagiarism we shouldn’t overlook the meat of the report, which does little to demonstrate the value of the program. Instead, it highlights the program’s inherent flaws.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dept. of Unwarranted Hubris, EB-5 Division

I don’t know what it would take for Patricia Moulton to realize that the jig is up, that business as usual in the EB-5 program simply won’t cut it anymore. But clearly, a major scandal isn’t enough.

The chief of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development put in an eppearance Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee, where she steadfastly refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with Vermont’s EB-5 program. According to VTDigger, one lawmaker characterized her testimony as “unrepentant.” And Sen. Kevin Mullin, not exactly an outside-the-box thinker, said Moulton “kind of scared me today because she was so much of a cheerleader.”

Okay, let’s look at the record. Moulton, following in the footsteps of her predecessor Lawrence Miller and his predecessors in the Douglas Administration, allowed horribly lax oversight of EB-5 projects, thus enabling the (cough, allegedly) fraudulent Jay Peak scheme to proceed for most of a decade. The last two people in charge of overseeing EB-5 left the agency to take jobs with EB-5 developers. The Shumlin administration, belatedly, realized that ACCD was failing to do the job and transferred regulatory oversight to the Department of Financial Regulation.

After all that, the feds raid Jay Peak, haul off the records and computers and change the locks, and issue a massive indictment of Bill Stenger, Ariel Quiros and company, which is a tacit indictment of Vermont’s dereliction of duty.

And now comes Patricia Moulton saying “as secretary of ACCD, my job, absolutely, is to be a cheerleader for the [EB-5] regional center.”

Amazing. How tone-deaf can you be?

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