Keeping our Youth in our State

Our local newspaper, the Gannett-owned Burlington Free Press ran an article today entitled Trying to Keep Them Down on the Farm. (Don’t know how long the link will last). There has been a lot of discussion lately about demographics of our state, and how we seem to be loosing our kids, and what will it take to keep them here. I wrote back:

The public hand-wringing about keeping our youth (Monday Nov 27th) seems to miss a couple of points.

I grew up in Montpelier from the age of 2, and attended the Montpelier public schools. By the time I graduated from high school, the last thing I wanted to do was to join the 50% of my college-bound classmates to attend UVM. I was desperate to get out of Dodge. After seeing some of the rest of the country and the world, I was happy to return to Vermont where I’ve now been for almost twenty years.

Secondly, most businesses in Vermont are small, and small businesses can be attractive to young people who want to make a difference in their work life. However, when a small business wants to hire, and is expected to provide health insurance for employees, that can be a $12,000-$15,000 up-front cost for an employee with a family. Uncoupling of health insurance from employment would be the single most effective job creation strategy for our state.

Thirdly, young people like to work in growing industries, in a creative environment. Much of the rest of the country, and progressive countries in Europe and Asia have decided that broadband internet and wireless are essential business infrastructure and that environmental technology and mitigation of global warming are areas of growth. Sadly, led by the Free Press editorial board, and our governor, public opinion in Vermont has written off renewable power, and our state and leaders continue to be obsessed with multi-million dollar traffic projects (Circ highway, Bennington bypass) which will be obsolete within fifty years. And broadband expansion? We’ve left that to Verizon, who is attempting to sell its holdings in rural New England, and to bankrupt out-of-state cable companies.

To put this in a little more context:

1. Verizon is running around Albany New York installing fiber cable to homes. The cost for a triple play (cable, telephone, and internet access) will be equivalent to what I’m paying for cable broadband alone. (no TV….mind you, just broadband). At the same time they have publicly stated that they are minimizing their investment in New England, and indeed they are attempting to sell their landline telephone lines in Maine, New Hamshire and Vermont. Almost anyone in VT who can get broadband can get it only from a single provider. Forget broadband wireless.

2. Anything other than highways in Vermont gets short shrift. The “Circ”, a ring road around the city of Burlington was proposed 30 years ago.

3. Wind projects, which are suitable on a maximum of 5% of the ridgeline in Vermont, and which could provide between 10% and 20% of our electricity have been discouraged by the local media and our governor. Land preservation has also been discouraged by the governor, even though the wilderness areas are a tiny fraction of the land area in Vermont. At the moment we actually get over 50% of our energy from renewables; hydropower from Quebec, and biomass (wood chips). The balance comes from a nuclear energy plant in the southern part of the state and from gas-fired turbines and out-of-state power. The Quebec hydro contracts are due to expire in 2012, and the projected 30-year life of the nuclear plant is due to expire shortly thereafter.

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