Solar Company’s Move To Vermont Hinges On State Incentives

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(Host) A solar company is considering opening a factory in Chittenden County, where it would create hundreds of jobs.

But the company says an economic incentive program that the Legislature is debating will play a key role in whether it moves to Vermont.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The company is called Skypoint Solar. It’s a start-up operation that plans to make electricity-generating solar panels.

Skypoint has its eye on a manufacturing building in Essex that was previously used by IBM. Officials say the presence of skilled former IBM workers – who have been laid off in recent years – is one thing that makes Vermont an attractive place to do business. Mike Olsen is Skypoint’s vice president for business development.

(Olsen) "I’d love to be able to get those folks in to Sky Point manufacturing solar panels."

(Dillon) Another big draw for Skypoint is a state economic incentive program that’s now under debate in the Legislature.

The start-up company has applied for assistance under the program, which provides direct payments to companies after they create jobs.

John Tuttle is the Skypoint CEO. He says the company hopes to hire about 100 people in its first year of operation, and then add up to 300 more as it adds manufacturing lines.

(Tuttle) "We want to build our first factory, and we have been on a search for the past year and a half looking at various states. And Vermont has now risen to the top one or two that we’re looking at."

(Dillon) Tuttle did not want to say how much money Skypoint hopes to get from the state economic incentive program. But he says the incentive payments are a key piece of its financing package. And Mike Olsen, the company’s vice president, pointed out that Vermont is competing with other states for the company’s investment.

(Olsen) "You know, with the other states offering incentives, I guess one way to look at it is that it would be extremely difficult to justify to our investors a move to Vermont if we did not get the incentives."

(Dillon) The economic incentive program is known as VEGI – for Vermont Employment Growth Incentive. It’s now capped at $10 million a year. The Douglas Administration wants the cap lifted.

Officials say four companies that have applied – including Skypoint – would put the state over the limit early this year.

Frank Cioffi of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation is in favor of lifting the cap. He says the state benefits in the form of additional payroll taxes and investment.

(Cioffi) Vermont makes money day one on this program. You don’t lose money on the VEGI program.

(Dillon) Montpelier Democrat Warren Kitzmiller is a little more skeptical. Kitzmiller chairs the House Commerce Committee. And he says Vermont’s schools, its environment and the quality of life also attract companies.

(Kitzmiller) I recognize that there are many states out there that are willing to give away so much more than Vermont could ever consider giving. Vermont cannot ever fully compete in what I consider a race to the bottom. We have to approach things in a responsible way, and I think overall we do.

(Dillon) The Douglas Administration wants to raise the incentive cap from $10 million to $25 million this year – and then lift it entirely for future years.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.


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