Business group says state should focus on “green” business

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(Host) A lot of people in Vermont have talked about the state’s potential for tapping into the growing trend toward environmentally friendly "green” businesses.

But, as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, one leading business group says it’s time to stop talking and start implementing an economic development strategy.

(Sneyd) Frank Cioffi is president of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation. For him, the time has come to put Vermont at the forefront of the "green" industry.

Here’s his "to do” list.

(Cioffi) "We’re seeking to be a catalyst. We are recommending some foundational items, some research on our work force, some help for the entrepreneurial companies that are here already, and to bring this back as one of the agenda items for the 2009 Legislature.”

(Sneyd) Cioffi says the entire state can benefit from his research in Burlington.

He says business, higher education and state government should find out what the "green economic sector” needs.

They should identify the people who are available to take jobs in those industries and figure out what skills they need to be successful.

Cioffi says Vermont will have to develop tax incentives, financing programs or venture capital funds that will draw companies to the state.

Dan Smith, who’s the vice president at the Burlington industrial group, says it makes good economic and environmental sense.

(Smith) “Frankly, we want to be sure that the producers of those goods and services that get us to sustainability are also housed here. In the long run, we can either be consumers of those goods and services or producers of those goods and services.”

(Sneyd) Economist Richard Heaps says the goal is hardly novel. Although he warns against expecting Vermont to be the magnet for green jobs that some politicians suggest, he says the state can’t ignore the potential.

(Heaps) "From an economist stepping back and looking at all the 50 states, you have to say they’re all trying to do very similar things. So the likelihood that one state is going to sneak in there before everybody else and grab a huge share of the market, as of today is not very likely.”

(Sneyd) Analyst Doug Hoffer, who has consulted with green businesses, is more optimistic about Vermont’s chances to create a lot of environmentally based jobs.

Look at the need to clean up Lake Champlain, he says. Or the growing demand for renewable energy.

But Hoffer says Vermont should rely on fundamentals like good job training and the jobs will follow.

(Hoffer) "People come here and make choices about where they’re going to grow a business or grow a family based on whether they like the place. Quality of life is critical. Infrastructure, in this case telecom and certainly transportation, and the quality of the work force, those are key issues, not things like tax credits.”

(Sneyd) Despite that concern Hoffer welcomes the suggestions of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation. Like others interested in Vermont’s economy, he says it’s time to capitalize on the environmental ethic that the state is so well known for.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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