To the rest of the state, Vermont’s
has an image as a region unto itself: a place of rugged natural beauty and
independent, hard working people. But the Kingdom is also a place hit hard by
mill closings and the loss of manufacturing jobs. It’s a place where
unemployment is higher, wages are lower and opportunities fewer than the rest
of the state.
All this week during Morning Edition, VPR presents a six-part series "Kingdom Comeback" that looks
at how the region is trying to set the stage for economic renewal and transform
its economy into one where jobs are more plentiful and the future is brighter.
Listen this week at 7:50 a.m. during Morning Edition.
VPR reporter Steve Zind talks with Vermont Edition about some of the economic issues facing the Northeast Kingdom in 2012.
The Northeast Kingdom has been hit hard by mill closings and the loss of manufacturing jobs. It’s a place where unemployment is higher, wages are lower and opportunities fewer than the rest of the state. One family has been rolling with the punches as the region’s economy has changed.
It’s the remotest part of Vermont, but the Northeast Kingdom is also
deeply intertwined in the global economy. No where can this be seen more
clearly than in the forest products industry. Many mills are dark and
the paper companies have left. Furniture manufacturing — once a
reliable mainstay of employment — has been decimated because of
competition from China. But there’s an effort to revive the forest-based
economy, and the focus now is on local wood for local markets.
leaders are betting on foreign dollars and clean, high tech industry for future
jobs. While small businesses will continue to play an essential role in
the Kingdom’s economy, the focus is on attracting larger manufacturing
businesses to create jobs and boost the economy. Foreign investors taking
advantage of the federal EB5 program have poured millions into development at Jay
Peak. Now EB5 and a foreign
trade zone program are being used to create a hub of bio-medical manufacturers
There’s an effort underway to boost
manufacturing in the Northeast Kingdom,
but the region’s existing employers say they can’t find enough workers with the
training necessary to operate today’s manufacturing
technology. The problem isn’t unique to the Kingdom, but in a region were fewer
people pursue a post-secondary education, it’s more pronounced. So is the flight of younger qualified workers
to greener pastures elsewhere. We’ll look at how education and business
leaders are trying to address the shortage of trained workers.
The Northeast Kingdom is the epicenter in Vermont
for large-scale wind projects. Once they’re built, the projects don’t employ
many people, but they do have the potential to dramatically cut taxes in their
host towns. But the projects also divide communities, with opponents arguing
that the tall towers will harm property values and drive tourists away.
The Kingdom has
long been a hunting and snowmobiling Mecca,
and the building boom at Jay Peak
and Jay’s purchase of Burke Mountain
are symbols of a new push to expand recreational opportunities with an eye
toward building the regional economy. As
evidence, many point to the success of Kingdom Trails.
Classic Designs in St. Johnsbury is a Northeast Kingdom wood products
business that has had to adapt to global competition by shifting away
from mass produced parts to custom made small orders. The factory is
also transitioning from century-old machines on the factory floor to new
computer controlled units. That requires retraining their employees.
VPR’s Steve Zind took a tour of the factory with David Redmond, CEO of