SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — In a speech last night, Gov. Phil Scott lauded the economic projects underway in Springfield as working examples of community collaboration to achieve growth and prosperity.
Scott was the keynote speaker at the Springfield Regional Development Corporation’s (SRDC) 2019 annual meeting at the Crown Point Country Club Tuesday night. Attendees included state legislators, local officials, and business leaders and community partners of the Windsor region.
Scott, who begins his third year as governor in January, reiterated his administration’s three policies — to grow the economy, make Vermont affordable and protect the vulnerable — as his litmus test for measuring any policy proposal.
“We ask ourselves when something comes forward if it accomplishes any of those three,” Scott told the audience. “If the answer is yes, then we consider it and move forward. If the answer is no, it might be a good concept but we have to prioritize.”
He said that the root of Vermont’s challenges is its rapidly aging population and its effect on the overall cost of living in the state.
Vermont’s population has become almost stagnant, to the point that the number of deaths is larger than the births, Scott reported.
Meanwhile, since 2009, Vermont’s workforce has shrunk by 15,000 people. That decline has not only created a labor shortage in the job market, but places a greater tax burden upon a narrower base.
“We don’t need more taxes here,” Scott said. “What we need is more tax payers.”
Despite the challenges, Scott pointed to Vermont’s numerous assets — from its education system to top ranking among states in health, safety and quality of life — and said that Vermont can reverse its population trend by leveraging its strengths.
“As we gear up for the next legislative session, my agenda will focus on keeping and attracting more working families, and making Vermont more affordable for the businesses already here,” Scott said. “The bottom line is we need to make working, going to college, running a business and retiring in Vermont more affordable.”
The governor pointed to Springfield’s employment of community development and partnering with state and local resources to “pull in the same direction.”
Scott also discussed how the state Agency of Commerce worked with Springfield’s community leaders on the Woolson Block project, a collaborative initiative to repurpose a dilapidated building on Main Street into an affordable housing apartment complex with four commercial spaces for rent at street level.
In a similarly collaborative project, the city purchased and recently demolished the former bakery building adjacent to the Woolson building, which opens a space to develop a small park alongside the Black River.
“All this shows is that when we’re working together and all pull in the same direction, we can make progress,” Scott said.
Scott praised the Black River Innovation Campus (BRIC), a tech-business incubator at the Park Street School, which Bob Flint, president of SRDC, and former gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne first shared as an idea at the SRDC’s 2017 annual meeting.
By leveraging Springfield’s 10-gigabyte internet speed, one of the fastest in the country, BRIC aims to cultivate a digital economy in the region. The non-profit business provides business support, coding and computer education and community space to facilitate tech-based entrepreneurs and opportunities for tech workers to relocate to Springfield.
Scott, along with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch, toured the campus in August when BRIC’s business incubator received a $235,000 economic development grant through the Northern Border Regional Commission.
“It’s exciting to see that BRIC is leveraging the high-speed internet that it has,” Scott said. “Again, that essential component of leveraging the assets. And I believe that, so far, there’s been over $3 million in federal and state level tax credits raised for this project.”
The governor said that incremental steps, and the energy and enthusiasm of its participants, help spur more economic initiatives.
“I am looking forward to many different things happening in the region,” Scott said in closing. “Sometimes it just takes a little incremental change. It gives hope. And what you are doing here tonight, what you’ve been doing over the last couple of years, is giving this region hope. And hope is contagious.”