The 10-year Winter Of Vermont’s Employment Discontent

Vermont is currently enjoying one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country.  Enjoying.  Yes, like most things in Vermont,

An economy so strong you can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it.

An economy so strong you can’t stop it, you can only hope to contain it.

“enjoying” comes with a bit of a caveat.  If by enjoying you mean “having a low unemployment rate with one of the weakest state economies in the country”, then yes, there is much to be enjoyed.

Yet even in the state’s own monthly statement on the labor market (November 2016), there seems to be some signs of reality slipping in.  Those signs only appear after the preamble, of course, because low unemployment is automatically great news for Vermonters:

The Vermont Department of Labor announced today that the seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for November was 3.2 percent. This reflects a decrease of one-tenth of one percentage point from the revised October rate (3.3 percent). The national rate in November was 4.6 percent. As of the prior month’s initial data, the Burlington-South Burlington Metropolitan NECTA was tied for the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the country for all metropolitan areas at 2.2 percent (not-seasonally-adjusted). Overall, Vermont’s unemployment rate was also tied for sixth lowest in the country for the same time period.

That must mean thousands of people are moving to Vermont to enjoy its robust economy and vast repositories of high-paying jobs just waiting to be filled by eager workers, right?  Right?

No.  The number is just a reflection of the declining size of Vermont’s labor force, not the number of unemployed.  In fact, the state’s lowest unemployment rate for the year was 3.1%, back in May 2016.

While the unemployment rate barely changed between May and November, the labor force shrunk by 1,200 people, and the total number of employed shrunk by 1,300 people, which results in a total unemployed number that’s barely changed.  Yet there are 1,300 fewer people employed between the state’s lowest unemployment rate month (May 2016) and last month (November 2016).

2016-labor

Telling Vermonters in a press release that Vermont’s unemployment rate is tied for sixth-lowest in the country is so meaningless (absent any context), it’s almost deceptive.  But the November press release goes on:

“The Vermont economy is more stable than the month-to-month data might suggest, as increases and declines are “ironed out” at the

Welcome to Vermont!

Welcome to Vermont!

conclusion of the year. What we can see is a slower rate of job gains this year than in recent years. Yet, with Vermont’s low unemployment rate, it’s still a tight labor market with recruitment and retention challenges for our employers; and a limited availability of workers can adversely impact economic expansion and growth.

Yes, it’s always going to be a tight labor market when the labor force is shrinking annually, and has been since its 40-year peak in April, 2009, at 361,200 Vermonters in the labor force.  In November, 2016, that number is 344,750.  That’s 16,000 fewer workers in the labor force in 7 years.  Vermont is featuring an annual worker reduction of more than 2,000 workers per year.

A couple of numbers from the state’s historical labor data that never seem to make it into the state’s semi-rosy press releases:

  • The average monthly number of workers in the labor force for 2016 is 345,000.  In 2006, this average is just shy of 357,000.  A reduction of 12,000 workers in the labor force.
  • The average monthly number of people employed in the labor force for 2016 is 334,000.  In 2006, this average is just shy of 344,000.  A reduction of 10,000 employed workers.

In fact, taking a look at a few of the lowest employment months in 2016, and comparing them to the historical high numbers in 3 cateogories – Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment – and then compare them to the 2009 numbers, a certain trend becomes clear:

  • Vermont’s number of employed is relatively the same for the past 10 years.
  • Vermont’s labor force is shrinking dramatically, at a rate higher than the decline of unemployed – which creates a decreasing unemployment rate.  This decreasing unemployment rate masks the fact that there is little to no job growth in the state for the last 10 years.

The historical context is…painful.

But the state’s conclusion as to how to address this issue, the fix, is a howler that has to be read at least twice to understand the depth of the disconnect:

Vermont needs to effectively utilize every state and federal job-training dollar to get people into jobs, and we need to address issues that will help Vermont be more successful: promoting gender equity, workplace civility, bringing under-represented populations into the workforce, creating job training programs that guarantee employment at the conclusion, and resolving the “benefit cliff” so that anyone who wants to work can do so without suffering adverse economic impacts.

Oh, so that’s all it takes!  Gender equity will create high-paying manufacturing, technical, and financial jobs for all inequitably-gendered Vermonters to enjoy!  I’d gasp with pride but I’m too busy gasping in astonishment.

Let’s look at that State of Vermont sanctioned checklist to fix the economy a bit more closely:

  • Gender equity (I’m assuming this reflects how much you have invested in the value of your house based on gender?)
  • Workplace civility (remember, you have to have a job first before the workplace’s civility can be measured by the Vermont State Civility Department)
  • Bringing under-represented populations into the workforce (like actual Vermonters, I’m guessing here?)
  • Create job training programs (because decades of job training programs have resulted in the numbers above, so let’s double-down on that approach).
  • Resolve the benefit cliff (this from the state that tried to institute single-payer, a system that has failed in Vermont as well as nationally, and has created people taking more part-time jobs because Obamacare’s incentives are upside-down).

Here’s what’s not mentioned in the press release, so I offer these up as suggestions to the State of Vermont, if they’re not too busy creating gender civility or the like:

  • Lower taxes – on income and property.
  • Reduced regulation by a state that’s paying for advertising on the horrors of contractor workers being, y’know, employed.  As a
    I hear there's an opening at WalMart. I'm on it.

    I hear there’s an opening at WalMart. I’m all over it.

    contractor.  By agreeing to a contract.  For work.

  • By creating a business-friendly business environment.  When you’re ranked 46th out of 57 states, well, there’s some room to grow.
  • Stop electing governors who promise something for free but winds up costing $200 million to “cover” only a small fraction of Vermonters who were uninsured, but qualified for insurance of some kind regardless of Peter Shumlin’s flailing attempts at implementing single-payer, and, well, you’d get more businesses interested in investing and expanding in Vermont when they know their costs won’t swing on the whims of state politicians interested in national offices.  Like in DC.  (Ahem).
  • Stop electing governors who usurp the authority of the state’s Public Service Board (which is supposed to represent the peoples’ interest, not the governor’s) and shutter the cheapest and most reliable electricity in the state’s history – Vermont Yankee.
  • Stop electing governors who tout new ‘clean-energy’ jobs as part of the state’s job-growth numbers, while happily ignoring the fact that federal subsidies – funded by taxpayers – pay for the bulk of those new ‘jobs’.

That said, the first step for any corrective action is up to Vermonters, who, at least in the last election cycle, seemed to have grasped what works, and what does not work.  It’s time for the State of Vermont to catch up to its citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vermont’s Six-Year Plan

Recently, Vermont’s unemployment rate ticked up a notch, a tenth of a percent, which seems to generate the standard spasmodic response programmed into the Department

Quite the opposite, actually.

Quite the opposite, actually.

of Labor’s webpage:

The Vermont Department of Labor announced today that the seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for August was 3.3 percent. This represents an increase of one-tenth of one percentage point from the revised July rate (3.2 percent). The national rate in August was 4.9 percent. As of the prior month’s initial data, the Burlington-South Burlington Metropolitan NECTA was tied for the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the country for all metropolitan areas at 2.9 percent (not-seasonally-adjusted). Overall, Vermont’s unemployment rate was fifth lowest in the country for the same time period.

The bolded section is the good news the state’s trying to slather over the dismal economic record of Peter Shumlin, and the Progressive bloc in general.  Because even though Vermont’s unemployment rate is low, that doesn’t mean Vermont’s economy is doing well.  Unemployment could be at zero, if every employable Vermonter was working for $10/hour selling lift tickets to tourists, but that’s not the Vermont we’re looking for, is it?

Unfortunately, that’s the Vermont you’re getting.  Even the state’s own out-year employment projections, short-term, says that out of the top 15 job types the state sees demand for, only 3 of them would require a Bachelor’s degree as a condition of employment.

That's encouraging.

That’s encouraging.

So why would the Department of Labor continue with its rosy monthly unemployment summaries, making comparisons to national and other KPIs to show that Vermont has a lower rate of unemployment than other places?  Why would it go out of its way not to provide a historical Vermont context for the overall employment picture?

It’s a simple answer, really.  If the DoL did show the data and speak to it openly, it would look bad for the current and prior administrations.  It might, finally, force the state to change its Progressive agenda to something that oh, I don’t know, create a job other than a cashier at an EB5-funded ski resort.

The real reason unemployment is low revolves around one thing only – a shrinking job force.  This is the Labor Force and Unemployment picture from 2010 (the start of Shumlin’s tenure as Vermont’s Governor and Single-Payer Implementer.  Oh, wait, my bad on that last part.  Never mind).

2010

These are the same months in 2016:

2016

If you look at the averages, the labor force in 2010 was larger by 14,000 people.  Yet the average number of employed Vermonters in 2010 was 337,000; in 2016 it was 333,000, a difference of 4,000 Vermonters.  The unemployed number has been cut in half, by about 10,000.

So although the number of unemployed has shrunk by 10,000 or so, we now have:

  1.  A smaller workforce.
  2.  Even fewer people employed.
  3.  A lower unemployment rate!  The economy must be booming!

These numbers alone show a significant negative trend that no amount of mediocre

Hey, at least it's not economics.

Hey, at least it’s not economics.

word-smithing by the Department of Labor can paper over.  That the state doesn’t advertise these numbers is because it demonstrates a massive failure of public policy, that the policies espoused by Shumlin, Shap Smith, et al, have been and continue to be the harbingers of the slow economic death experienced by Vermonters, every day.

For the dwindling number of Vermonters still living there, that is.  There is a choice.  What’s hard to accept is that for Vermonters to thrive, to live in their own homes, and raise their families, maybe the state they grew up in is no longer home.

 

 

The Ministry of Truth-Telling

Finally, at least one agency of the largest employer of the state – the state of Vermont – is telling the truth:  If you want to live in Vermont,

They misspelled "Progressive Party of Vermont" here.

They misspelled “Progressive Party of Vermont” here.

expect a lower standard of living than your parents enjoyed.  If you could use the word “enjoyed” in a state that boasts one of the highest aggregate tax rates and one of the highest costs of living and doing business in the country, and routinely ranks near the bottom of all national surveys on business climate.

The Department of Public “Service”, that same wonderful entity that helped bring about the shuttering of Vermont Yankee, which had the happy result of increasing electrical costs and dependency upon non-locally-generated power, now suggests, strongly, that Vermonters start moving into caves:

Giving up some rural landscapes for solar arrays, sharing cars and driving less, and generally using less cheap oil and gas are all in order if the state has any hope of achieving 90 percent renewable energy usage by 2050.

This was the message of the DPS at a public forum held at the Vermont College of Fine Arts on Tuesday morning. Included in the crowd of about 100 were some state legislators and energy professionals.

The forum allowed the public to provide input on the standards the DPS must create per Act 174 of 2016 for ensuring consistency of regional and municipal plans with state energy policy.

In other words, like with schools, you can create your own policy, as long as it conforms to what the state is going to tell you to do anyway.

To do this, the state’s finest in planning professionals (the same state that brought you Single-Payer Healthcare Planning Professionals Who Think Voters Are Stupid) are suggesting the following steps to get to the 90% renewables by 2050 target:

Not pictured: Shumlin

Not pictured: Shumlin

Director of the Planning and Energy Resources Division of the DPS Asa Hopkins led much of the initial presentation. He said that eventually communities should create maps that overlay what he categorized as primary and secondary constraints for alternative energy development.

Oooh!  Maps!  To where the buried energy treasure lies?  Oh, no, wait.  Not the fun kind of maps.  He means anything (more or less) found outside:

Some examples of primary constraints include vernal pools, river corridors, FEMA floodways, rare and irreplaceable natural areas, transportation infrastructure, federal wilderness areas and wetlands. Some secondary constraints include agricultural soils, conserved lands, deer wintering areas, hydric soils and habitat blocks.

So, in other words, you’re required to make renewables part of regional energy planning but you can only do so within the state’s proscribed box o’ places to site said energy sources, like solar, else the sky falls in and bad things will happen.  In the form of penalties.

Hopkins suggested a shift from oil and gas to renewables would mean, from an economic perspective, a shift away from operating costs (primarily fuel) into capital costs (infrastructure). He suggested the overall aggregate of energy costs should stay relatively the same, give or take about 5 percent.

Funny, that’s as much as the electric rates for Vermont Yankee went up (5%) when the Vermont legislature decided that it could decide whether or not Vermont Yankee could continue to operate, because as every Vermonter knows, all legislators are highly experienced energy professionals with decades of knowledge to back up their decision-making:

Vermont’s three largest utilities use about one million more MW/H of “system power” now than in 2011 (before the March 2012 expiration of Vermont’s utilities’ contract with Vermont Yankee which provided about one-third of the state’s power). System power is the term for electricity bought from the New England transmission grid, and is comprised mostly of fossil fuel power (especially natural gas), as well as some nuclear, hydro and renewable power. Green Mountain Power, Burlington Electric Dept., and Vermont Electric Coop use 1.8 million megawatt hours of “system power.” In 2011 the same three utilities used 847,000 Mw/h of system power, according to the “Utility Facts” study released in February, 2013 by the Vermont Department of Public Service.

Over the 12 months from December 2011 to December 2012, Vermont’s electricity prices rose 5.1 percent, according to the EIA. During the same time period, rates in New York and every other New England state (except Rhode Island) decreased.

In the same way that Vermonters are being told that they will a) adhere to the state’s incalculably stupid energy policy (which is really just a

The latest in Vermont's new hi-tech homesteads!

The latest in Vermont’s new hi-tech homesteads!  No power required!

vehicle for politicians to use to get elected), they’re also told that b) it really will only cost 5% more.

Just like when Vermonters were told their health care insurance costs wouldn’t go up much (in fact, they were told it would go down), it would be easier to enroll, and they would have more choices.  In that regard, it’s not so much as accepting the lie itself that the state is telling you, it’s that you get to choose which lie you want to believe in.  That’s classical market thinking, Progressive-style.

Not mentioned by the state’s Progressive Peoples’ Brigade are the hard and unyielding economic realities of cost:  When the cost of something goes up, less of it is demanded, and that rule goes for power, too.  Except for local businesses, which are small and depend upon the general economic vitality of Vermont to keep food on the table – and a booming travel industry – bigger businesses can and will move, to places that aren’t apparently out to shutter them.  While politicians like Peter “Thanks, I’ll Quit While I’m Barely Ahead” Shumlin tout the state as a “great” place for jobs, the hard smack of reality is that the bulk of job growth is in service jobs, which are not well-known for their high rates of pay.

Electricity is a cost in every economic activity, but especially manufacturing.  The price and reliability of electricity are critical factors in the manufacturing business model.  Even the Shumlin administration, which had previously worked to not cut IBM a break, finally decided that the rates were an issue in 2014 – well after IBM had already voiced its concerns.

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said the rate freeze was particularly important this year for IBM.

“It is no secret that they are struggling,” Recchia said. “And a rate freeze for them was going be very helpful for additional planning in the coming years.” Though the freeze doesn’t prevent IBM from leaving the state, he said, “I think they would describe it as every little bit helps.”

No kidding.  You think so, Chris?

IBM said in testimony to the Public Service Board that electricity rates in New York are much lower than they are in Vermont. And New York has “made an aggressive push” to attract high-tech businesses like GlobalFoundries, the tech company rumored to be considering the purchase of IBM’s Essex plant.

“Competitors in other geographic areas are paying electric rates significantly lower than IBM Vermont’s rates,” said Nathan Fiske, an IBM site energy manager, in prefiled PSB testimony on May 30. “Our competitive disadvantage, as a result of the higher electric costs paid by IBM Vermont, is very substantial.”

Which is one of many many reasons why Fab 2000 is now sited in New York, not Williston, Vermont, providing jobs to New Yorkers instead of Vermonters (not including the Vermonters who moved there to find a new job in the new fab, part of Vermont’s economic exodus).

But now, finally, the state has come clean:  It wants a diminished future for Vermonters, mandated from a central planning agency.  How this

Not pictured: Chowderheads frantically dialing the power company when the rolling blackouts start. In January.

Not pictured: Chowderheads frantically dialing the power company when the rolling blackouts start. In January.

translates out to Vermonters in the real world, though, might not quite align so nicely with the Vermont Progressive Utopia:

A recurring theme in one of the discussion groups was “One-size-fits-all is a difficult standard to work with,” as Judith Jackson of Irasburg put it.

State Rep. Joseph Troiano, D-Stannard, reiterated as much. He said Stannard has of a population of only about 150 people, with no paved roads and certainly no public transportation. Residents are spread out and they go to work in different directions, so any notion of ride-sharing is pretty much off the table.

Vermont is in the bottom half of states for population density.  Add in the fact that for half the calendar year there’s the real possibility of snow and ice factoring into transportation decisions, and you’re not really likely to see someone from Buel’s Gore biking to work in South Burlington, and, well, this “plan” starts to seem irrationally optimistic.

Moving a weak and demographically shaky economy to one that has less predictability in access to electricity, with uncertainty in rates, does not equal a massive influx of speculative capital, in search of Vermont’s next big economic success story.  The Ministry of Truth, in the form of the DPS, is doing a painful disservice, again, to the people of Vermont, that it purports to represent.

In fact, what DPS says in its mission statement, and what it’s telling the public, are two different things:

We work to advance all Vermonters’ quality of life, economy and security through implementation of our statewide energy and telecommunications goals, using sound statewide energy and telecommunications planning, strong public advocacy of the public good, and through strong consumer protection advocacy for individuals.

So which is it?  A reduction in the standard of living to adhere to the bureaucracy’s latest 5-year plan, or working to advance all Vermonters’ quality of life?

Because it can’t be both.

Vermonzuela: It’s Either A Cheese Or A State Of Mind

Vermonzuela:  A Progressive cheese that’s so progressive it winds up in your shopping cart without you asking for it, it’s price is

labeled “free”, and it tastes like the ashbin of history?

OK, so it’s not a real cheese.

In what can only be potentially great news for under-employed millennials here in the United States, Venezuela, a country demonstrating just how clever it is by nationalizing industries and implementing massive social welfare programs predicated on revenues flowing from just one commodity, is now taking steps to make its own citizens work in forced-labor camps.

You asked for work, you got it, Millennials!

In a scene that could only make such historical luminaries as Pol Pot, Mao Tse-Tung, and Stalin throw a party:

Fight the power! Er, wait - I am the power!

Fight the power! Er, wait – I am the power!

The government of Venezuela has issued a decree that “effectively amounts to forced labor” in an attempt to fix a spiraling food crisis, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Nothing fixes a shortage of food like taking people out of their offices and putting them to work in the field, where they will surely create such a massive spike in productivity that prices will inevitably drop, as more food is grown and harvested more rapidly than before, simply by adding more resources to the same level of work.  Even if said resources know absolutely zero about farming, harvesting, transporting, and selling produce of any kind.  And might also be hungry.

This type of thinking has historical precedent.  They’re called “famines”, and the Soviet Union wound up killing millions of people through starvation, based on forced collectivization.  So did Mao in his Great Leap Forward Into Slaughtering Tens Of Millions.

So, for Venezuela to follow this same historical path just sounds like good science.  Unfortunately, this same science is applied in Vermont, on a much smaller scale, with smaller impacts, but the basic premises are the same.  Let’s take a look.

1. Single-payer:  Price controls for Health Care:  As has been called for by some single-payer proponents to make the system “work”, price controls essentially act as a cap on what can be charged for services.  This means that either a) once the number of patients has been seen that gobbles up the budget through the cap limit for the year, no more patients can be seen, or b) you can continue to see patients, but they will only be able to offer reduced services in order to stay under the cap for the year.  You can model this as a per-capita equation, estimating how many people a particular doctor might see based on historicals, but you are completely guessing as to what the real need will be (a big flu season, bad weather causing more accidents than normal, a flood, etc, would throw the budget into chaos).  Odds are good that your variance to that capped budget will exceed the 3.5%-4.0% margin Vermont hospitals generally operate under, annually.

As Hamilton Davis argues:

Getting the costs under control will require unprecedented changes in the health care delivery system itself. In the past, ties between elements of the health care system – doctors and hospitals – were limited. They competed with one another to a significant degree and that is still going on.

In the future, they will have to be integrated, tied together, both clinically and financially. The reimbursement system will have to shift from fee-for-service, which is a powerful incentive for overuse, to some sort of per capita financing, rather than financing per medical episode. And the doctors and hospitals will have to take “risk”; they will have to set a price for caring for a group of patients, and if they exceed it, the overage will come out of their pockets.

Right.  And if the overage is more than what goes into their pockets, the practice shuts down – or at best, it starts rationing care in one form or

Is this where the line starts for free college?

Is this where the line starts for free college?

another.  Or the doctor and staff start receiving salary cuts.  Even though some of Davis’s arguments are logical, they fail, utterly, when compared as easily as he does to other industries.  A car mechanic can turn away anyone he or she doesn’t want to work for; a hospital has to take care of the sick immediately, with the financing done later.  That will mean the hospital will have a mix of payers, and some cover the costs, and some don’t.  A cap on what you can spend per patient creates the incentives to do just what cost controls aren’t supposed to do – reduce the amount of care available.  Davis actually states that the doctors will have to set a price – which you have to do either in the market, or in a government-mandated controls situation.  Why is one OK but the other isn’t?  Why would the inevitable reduction in the amount of care available be seen as a benefit?

Oh, and as for examples of price controls not working?  See how Medicare and Medicaid’s reimbursements have been keeping up with actual costs.  How’s that working out?

2.  Venezuela banned GMOs.  I seem to recall some Progressive efforts on this in Vermont recently, but let’s see how Venezuela’s doing:

The Seed Law seeks to consolidate national food sovereignty, regulate the production of hybrid seed, and rejects the production, distribution and import of GMO seeds, according to GMWatch. The law will also ban transgenic seed research.

The law will establish the National Seed System, a central body that will implement the new law. The group will monitor and sanction any agricultural violations, with a focus on the protection of traditional seeds, teleSUR reported.

The legislation, which comes after years of collective grassroots efforts, was promptly signed by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.

“Approval of the Seed Law was pending since last year after being proposed through a national dialogue process in 2013,” teleSUR reported. “Public consultations have sought popular input on the law, and campesinos [farmers] and environmental advocates have

Clear evidence that nationalization of industries works just fine, thank you.

Clear evidence that nationalization of industries works just fine, thank you.

long urged for its approval.”

Are these “environmental advocates” starving?  Because it looks like the rest of the country is, so much so that they’re going to force people to work in labor camps to produce more food.

3.  Venezuela Bans Private Gun Ownership in 2012:  Not to be outdone, the Burlington, VT, city council banned guns from private ownership.  Despite such niceties as the 2nd Amendment creating headaches for right-thinking city council members, Burlington, at least is choosing the same path to success and individual freedom as Venezuela.

History has no shortage of despots in one form or another banning the private ownership of guns, which obviously makes it easier to control your less-than-thrilled-with-you citizens.  But it clearly sends a signal to Venezuelans that they’re subjects, not citizens, and the choices are being made for them, to them, instead of the people making their own choices for themselves.

Which is what markets, and ultimately freedom, are about.  The more choices are removed, the less free you are.

Looks like Vermont and Venezuela have a lot more in common than I might have thought.

 

Vexit: The Vermont Exit From The Progressive Union

Great Britain, in re-claiming its sovereignty by famously voting to exit the EU, has set a new standard in terms of trying on new political ideas, and finding them wanting.  The difference for Britain and its people, in this case, is that they could disconnect from the EU experiment if they didn’t like it.  As just one maddening example shows, it turns out that the EU defining how olive oil should be served on restaurant tables might not be in anyone’s best interests, except for an EU bureaucracy that seemed to function only to create additional costs for businesses with no

Sorry, that bottle of oil is completely unsafe and might explode.

Sorry, that bottle of oil is completely unsafe and might explode.

discernible benefit to the public good, or to the business itself.

Why would anyone want to put up with this insanity?  As Great Britain demonstrated, if a free people choose to exercise their own power, they will decide not to put up with said insanity.

Vermont’s example shows, however, that it takes more than talk to change a few decades of EU-esque progressivism’s slow but determined encroachment into the decision-making space of every citizen.  The encroachment never happens in one swift stroke.  Incrementalism is the key, and as more layers of bureaucratic power and spending are added, annually, the new norm is established.  The next year’s barnacles are built on the prior year’s established barnacles.

A few of these barnacled examples from Vermont:

Act 250:  What was started as a way to manage growth in Vermont, and to apply a common set of guiding principles and rules has devolved, utterly, into a chokehold on economic growth.  A dilapidated example of which is evident to anyone getting on Interstate 189 off Shelburne Road, in Burlington, where they can see the Vermont’s largest accidentally-funded skatepark, which started construction in 1988, and only last year was the final hurdle cleared in allowing construction to continue.

1988 to 2015.  27 years to build a road.  A 2.9-mile road, one whose planning began in 1965.  Even with a recent green light given by the

You can just *feel* the economic vitality oozing from its unused surface.

You can just *feel* the economic vitality oozing from the unused surface.

Vermont Supreme Court (which tossed out a final appeal to block further construction), the City of Burlington is only targeting construction to begin in 2018.

So call it a 30 year delay in building 3 miles of road to route interstate traffic off the highway, into the city.  10 years per mile, of delay.

And Peter Shumlin has said Vermont is “open for business”?

Speaking of the business-friendly environment Vermonters have come to know and love under the Progressive agenda, one of the icons of small businesses in Vermont, Bove’s, was fined in 2008 for labeling their products in a fashion that the Progressive agenda does not approve of, including (gasp!) the fact that not every component in the sauce is made in Vermont.

The Attorney General’s office says that the Bove’s company sold several types of jarred pasta sauces and other products under the “Bove’s of Vermont” label. But the tomatoes were from California and some of the sauce was made in New York. State law prohibits companies from using the word “Vermont” to market products made outside of the state.

Granted, there is a concern about something being labeled inaccurately, but where is the line drawn?  Does the glass for the jars need to be made in Vermont, too?  The manufacturing tools used at the manufacturing facility – are those made in Vermont?  The jar lids?  The labels?  The oregano?  Modern manufacturing is a worldwide supply chain equation, and the state has no knowledge of, nor expertise in, any one single product, much less everything made in Vermont.

As an example, the state regulates wood.  Well, thank God that that issue has been figured out.  I was concerned that Christmas trees would be mislabeled, and angry Christmas shoppers would riot when this duplicity was discovered.

Vermont's lingering wood question, finally resolved through governmental excellence.

Vermont’s lingering wood question, finally resolved through governmental excellence.

 

EB-5:  Long a darling of the Shumlin administration, the EB-5 program was designed to attract foreign investment in Vermont capital projects, of which there is something of a shortage.  Like water in a desert, Vermont needed a federal program to let dollars rain down on its citizens, because without Progressive leadership to fix Vermonters’ problems for them, where would they be?

Well, they wouldn’t be investigated by the SEC for fraud, for one thing.  But hey, what’s a few hundred million in loans floated around in what seems to be a Ponzi-like effort to leverage investor dollars in every place but the capital project itself?  As others have noted, when campaign contributions come from people benefiting from public dollars, even a thin veneer of deniability shatters upon closer inspection:

Wait. You did *what* with the money?

Wait. You did *what* with the money?

The current circumstances at Q Burke and Jay Peak are a blow for the entire state of Vermont. Economic development in communities which have been historically neglected is absolutely essential to the financial vitality of our state. The fact that the EB-5 funding scandal is the product of, in this case, a handful of angel funders who have little connection to Vermont speaks loudly to the desperation of public officials who wanted to believe that the primary developers of these projects, Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger, were white knights. They weren’t.

Many will point to the fact that the alleged fraud in this case was eventually uncovered and point to the hard-working forensic accounting specialists who largely go unheralded as evidence that our system of oversight worked. To the extent that these alleged white collar crooks dipped into the public till and enriched themselves at the expense of all Vermonters that is in fact true. But, we should have never, EVER gotten to this point.

Campaign contributions showered the state Democratic party and its leaders, most notably Gov. Peter Shumlin and Sen. Patrick Leahy. Quiros and Stenger did not make those contributions out of the goodness of their hearts. They expected something in return for those campaign monies. While unseemly, under our system that kind of relationship between elected officials and supporters looking to gain or sustain influence is not illegal.

Single-Payer:  Another Progressive fantasy, “Single-Payer”, which mostly involves getting other people to pick up even more costs in addition to what they’re already covering due to the cost shift and Medicaid block grants, wound up being mightily flushed into the outhouse of Vermont’s history, along with a couple hundred million in taxpayer dollars to pay for a site the state did not need, but Peter Shumlin did in order to raise his political profile to national levels.

So Vermont spent someone else’s money, again, for nothing.  Although the fact that it failed in Vermont, and Shumlin had to admit to its failure, which probably contributed to him not running for office again, might have been worth the investment.  In a jaw-dropping turn of

Hey, who's got $2.6 billion I can borrow?

Hey, who’s got $2.6 billion I can borrow?

phrase, though, Peter keeps the Progressive dream alive, by using phrasings like “Vermont’s not ready yet”, as if there’s an as-yet untapped pile of Vermonter-hidden gold in the $2.6 billion dollar range that’s just lying around, ready to be used for single-payer.

Instead, Shumlin hid his financing “plan” until after an election.  Why?  Because that’s just good science, Vermonters!

The governor kept the development of his financing plan under wraps for several years and had come under increasing pressure to include members of the public in the process. He waited, however, until after the election to make his move. The delay may have cost him voter support as he narrowly defeated an relatively unknown Republican challenger, Scott Milne, by only 2,434 votes in November.

The reality was that the Progressive dream Peter touted was not even remotely possible, under any set of financial circumstances, yet Shumlin rode the wave of its popularity to successive elections until even he could no longer hide from facts, or hide the facts from the public.

“We obviously wish that the numbers were different. It’s a huge disappointment for me, it’s the biggest disappointment of my public service so far, but we’ll make progress by pushing forward in other ways,” Shumlin said.

What should be disappointing to Vermonters is how he spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a vehicle to national office, yet Vermont was still stuck with him.

Now it’s easy to complain, so what’s the cure for Vermont’s ills?  Is there a federal grant program that could be tapped to repair what might have become an irreparably broken Vermont, after decades of abuse?

Or, instead, can Vermonters figure this out on their own?  Here’s a few suggestions that might help the state change course:

Cut taxes:  Match other states that have similar population size, demographics, geographics, etc.  New Hampshire comes to mind here.  It turns out that their aggregate rate of state and local taxes (as of 2011) ranks them 44th (at 8%), and Vermont 9th (at 10.5%).  Here’s an idea:  If people have more of their own money to spend on goods and services, aggregate demand goes up.  The economy grows.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Encourage business:  The costs of business can be broken down into some simple cost drivers:  Labor, materials, and energy.  What did Vermont do for its businesses in those categories?

a.  Increased the cost and reliability of energy by shutting Vermont Yankee.  Shumlin took pains to make sure he was credited for increasing business costs for Vermonters.

b.  Increased the already-high cost of labor by mandating health insurance coverage categories for everybody, essentially, mandating a Cadillac plan.

c.  Increased the cost of gas by raising taxes on it, a cost which every business uses in one way or another, and Vermonters use to drive to work and to drive to places where they might, oh, buy wood.  This cost is passed on to the buyer at every level of a business’s operations, for everything they purchase.

Cut Taxes:  Did I mention cutting taxes?  Vermont is ranked 49th for economic outlook, which, unless I’m doing my math wrong here, means Vermont is near to reaching Progressive nirvana, by being next to the best at being worst:

Only New York is worse than Vermont when it comes to tax and regulatory policies that foster economic growth, according to a new report on economic competitiveness between states.

According to the eighth annual Rich States, Poor States, Vermont is 49th out of 50 states on economic outlook due to the state’s ratings on 15 different variables, including tax rates, labor policies and overall regulatory burden.

Oh, and cut taxes.

Finally, there’s a broader, more philosophical argument to make, one that aligns with what used to be something of a political signature for Vermont, the town meeting.  The idea of subsidiarity, essentially meaning a de-centralization of political control, kicks all the way back to de Tocqueville, but is anathema to today’s Progressivism.

Alexis de Tocqueville‘s classic study, Democracy in America, may be viewed as an examination of the operation of the principle of subsidiarity in early 19th century America. De Tocqueville noted that the French Revolution began with “a push towards decentralization… in the end, an extension of centralization.”[1] He wrote that “Decentralization has, not only an administrative value, but also a civic dimension, since it increases the opportunities for citizens to take interest in public affairs; it makes them get accustomed to using freedom. And from the accumulation of these local, active, persnickety freedoms, is born the most efficient counterweight against the claims of the central government, even if it were supported by an impersonal, collective will.”[2]

Virtually nowhere in the Progressive agenda do you find calls for a reduction in power, or control.  Every Progressive item in Vermont, and at the national level, is to either take control of decision-making from the citizens, or to reduce their Constitutionally-based rights, if it furthers

Town Meeting in Charlotte, Vermont. Not in Washington, DC.

Town Meeting in Charlotte, Vermont. Not in Washington, DC.

the Progressive agenda, and garners more votes, which equates to an even further increase in control.

The idea that others represent us politically becomes less and less realistic the further away from us they get, both physically and philosophically.  Ideally, however, the opposite should be true:

The laws you live under should be made by the people you live with.

Progressivism, in its most modern sense, is a champion of centralized control.  Great Britain has learned that lesson.  As Churchill once said, the US will be sure to do the right thing, eventually, after we’ve exhausted all the other possibilities.

Let’s hope that doesn’t take too long.

PMOs: Politically Modified Organisms

In a state that ranks 41st for business, nothing sells better politically than taking a stand on…food?

Vermont, a state with apparently nothing better to do,  has recently become the 1st state to require food labeling on product made with genetic engineering.  Vermont’s champion of all things natural (including his own hairstyle), Peter Shumlin had this to say about Vermont’s chicken gmo
historic moment:

“This is a true David and Goliath story, a small state fighting big food, big agriculture, big business and big money in Washington,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said.

No mention from Peter about how instituting single-payer in Vermont bends the state over (backwards, mostly) in terms of bowing to big business and big money in Washington.  But let’s get to food!

  1. All food is genetically modified.  Corn, wheat, soybeans, you name it, have all been bred for centuries so the most desirable traits in the product are prevalent.
  2. The state does not address meat or dairy, because, obviously, the dairy industry has a healthy interest in modifications made to cows so they can produce more milk.  I guess some GMOs are more equal than others, in the political science realm.
  3. Making crops virus-resistant  (as many genetic modifications do) improves yields and drives cost down, making food availability more widespread and cheaper.  Humans are injected annually with the flu vaccine.  Should we stop vaccine production immediately?  Should vaccinated humans be removed from store shelves immediately?
  4. Kale, (sorry hipsters) is a GMO.  Just ask the Smithsonian!  And Peter “Kale Boy” Shumlin!

    So he signs an anti-GMO law, but touts a GMO. If you're looking for consistency, look away from The Face Of Shumlin.

    So he signs an anti-GMO law, but touts a GMO. If you’re looking for consistency, look away from The Face Of Shumlin.

As others have noted, there’s a host of reasons why GMO opposition exists, and it ignores the realities of the current food supply, and how food that today isn’t under the GMO labeling requirement has long been modified.

Ian Godwin, University of Queensland Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics, told Coach that a lot of the opposition to GMO foods stems from the fact big American multinational companies were some of the first to start using them.

“Part of it is an ideological thing against large multinationals, which was aided and abetted by the European Union because it seemed US seed companies were going to take over the seed industry in Europe,” he explains.

Secondly, the fact that organic certifying organisations refuse to certify GM products organic, has contributed to the belief that GM foods are less healthy or good for the environment.

“I have argued that [organic certification] shouldn’t just accept it or reject it –look at it on a case-by-case basis,” Professor Godwin says.

“If there is one that will allow us to not use [pesticides or insecticides] to control fungal diseases on tomatoes and potatoes, environmentally that might be a good thing.”

Australian Organic argues that there is not enough understood about GMOs and, “with many safe and proven forms of farming already available, the organic farmer believes it is important to allow Mother Nature to provide us food the way nature intended”.

But Professor Godwin counters that our current food supply is a far cry from how Mother Nature originally designed it.

“We have to recognise that agriculture is not natural,” he points out.

“We are taking one species and trying to make that the only species that grows on a hundred hectares of land. That doesn’t occur in nature.”

Professor Godwin says that apples naturally would be bitter and the size of cherries, while maize grasses were carefully selected by humans to find ones with more seeds to produce more yield.

“Wild maize has maybe 20 seeds in each cob but through domestication we selected bigger cobs that have 800 seeds,” he points out.

“We have done a lot with domestication of plants to make them unable to survive in nature.”

But what’s the short-term impact of the labeling requirement in Vermont?  Food taken off shelves by grocers, that know they are not in compliance with Vermont law.

Price Chopper, one of Vermont’s leading chains, announced Friday that it would no longer sell about 3,000 products manufactured by companies which refuse to put the Vermont label on their product.

So, when the average Vermonter goes to buy groceries, what they can choose to purchase is reduced, meaning someone else is making their

It must be great if there's a line, right?

It must be great if there’s a line, right?

choices for them, again.  Politicians are making the choices for them, so the politician can yet again buy votes by appealing to a demographic slice that wants nothing more than to dictate how Vermonters live their lives, and what the “right” choices are.  As Venezuela is ably demonstrating, centralized planning as to what you can get, when you can get it, and price controls on crops, etc, result in utter chaos and shortages.

When the politicians are making the choices for you, everybody loses.  Like single-payer in Vermont, where you get all the options to choose from that you want, as long as you choose this option.

Why do all of Shumlin’s political victories make Vermonters worse off?  Single-payer.  Vermont Yankee.  GMO labeling.

And why did they keep voting him in?

 

 

 

 

Vermont GDP: Gross Disaster Product

Art Woolf, longtime economics professor at the University of Vermont, recently wrote about Vermont’s GDP being the lowest in the nation – even lower than a state with a smaller population than Vermont:

The best summary statistic we have to describe a state or nation’s economy is gross domestic product, the total dollar value of all goods and services produced within its borders.  Vermont’s GDP — $30.4 billion in 2015 — pales in comparison to the U.S. total of $17,800 billion.  That’s usually referenced as $17.8 trillion, but it’s hard enough for me to conceptualize a billion dollars, much less a trillion, and comparing Vermont’s GDP to the nation is best done using the same units of measure.  We could also say that Vermont’s GDP is $0.0304 trillion, but that’s even harder to conceptualize. At any rate, Vermont’s GDP is the smallest of any state in the nation, below even Wyoming, the only state with fewer people than Vermont.  At the other end of the list, California leads the nation with a GDP of $2.5 trillion.

As we’ve noted before, Vermont has been at the very tail end of economic growth as compared to the other 49 states (or 56 if you’re Obama, who really kills it at math).

But worse, even when comparing a barely anemic growth rate in GDP in Vermont to New Hampshire’s more robust rate, there is much more compelling economic evidence that the state is trending downward.  In a very critical category:  Income.

GDP goes up in both states, but incomes go down in Vermont. Shocking.

GDP goes up in both states, but incomes go down in Vermont. Shocking.

Vermont’s median household income has never been higher than New Hampshire’s, at least going as far back as 2000 (earliest year of the FRED data).  New Hampshire’s population is roughly twice that of Vermont’s, but on the median household income basis, that population factor is accounted for.

Why?  Why are Vermont incomes lower, and even trend negative starting in 2013?  If those trends are negative in 2013, why would Vermont’s sitting governor, Peter Shumlin, declare Vermont to be a “great” place for jobs in 2014?  How “great” can it be if incomes are going down?

Worse, the trend in Vermont is increasing spending and employee hiring in the public sector, while NH has been trimming the number of employees in the public sector.  Vermont’s answer to stagnation is to hire more employees; New Hampshire’s seems to be the opposite.

One of these trends is not like the other.

One of these trends is not like the other.

In fact, between the peak of government employees for both states in the January 2010 timeframe (above), until January 2016, here’s how NH and VT compare:

 

nh vt govt employee split

Incomes do not go up when state spending increases to hire more people.  The dollars spent on state employees come from the private sector, and the higher the private sector is taxed, the slower the economy will grow.  So how does VT and NH compare, in total taxes?  Vermont is ranked 12th in total taxes; New Hampshire is ranked 49th.

This is not a race you want to be first in.

This is not a race you want to be first in.

In other words, if you’re looking for growth prospects, higher incomes, and opportunity for yourself and your family, Vermont might not be the state you’re looking for.

obi meme

What A Difference A Year Makes!

Nothing succeeds like success!  Or, it does if you’re Annie Noonan, the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Labor, and your job is to cheerlead mediocrity.  Since Vermont has such a low unemployment number, even when bad weather (from the ski industry’s point of view) makes for fewer of those high-paying seasonal service jobs, Annie’s here to tell that there’s a silver lining to the unemployment cloud:

January 26, 2016:  “The lack of snow directly impacted the number of jobs in Vermont in December.  People who had been hired by employers in the leisure and hospitality sector were laid off when the snow didn’t arrive as expected, and ski lifts were idled, hotel rooms weren’t booked, and restaurants weren’t serving the winter-season visitors.  As such, the December employment data had notable employment loss; fortunately, the situation is turning around, and many of those laid off workers are now back to work.  Vermont employers are still hiring, and job training programs and internships are available for many Vermonters.  The Department of Labor encourages anyone looking for work or a career change to visit one of our 12 regional career centers.”

Well.  Vermont employers are still hiring.  Great news!  So what kind of jobs are they hiring for?  Before answering that question, let’s look at Vermont’s 2015 economic performance from an employee point of view.  Meaning someone who’s actively looking for work:

Hey, unemployment's lower! But, um, so are the employed. Oh.

Hey, unemployment’s lower! But, um, so are the employed. Oh.

Hm.  The Total column represents Vermont’s burgeoning labor force.  So there’s roughly 5,000 fewer people actively seeking employment in Vermont in December 2015 than there was in January 2015.

As the unemployment column shows, about 5,000 fewer people were unemployed in December 2015 than there were in January 2015.  So how can the unemployment number drop from 4.6% to 3.1% in 12 months, if those two numbers are the same?

Answer:  Because the overall employment number is almost exactly the same.  330,000 people were employed in January 2015, and 330,000 people were employed in December 2015.  Net new employment is all of 100 people.

That’s it.  That’s the Shumlin administration’s 2015 job creation record.  100 net new jobs.

What industries were able to reap this whirlwind harvest of jobs?  What businesses could absorb this upwelling of employment?  Well, government, mostly, and health care & social assistance.  In other words, taxpayer-supported jobs, not private-sector jobs, the jobs that provide the tax revenues to support the public sector.

Feel the economic...burn?

Feel the economic…burn?

And how is Annie Noonan’s boss, Peter Shumlin, addressing this massive job crisis in the Green Mountain State?  Oh, he’s telling businesses to divest from the coal and gas industries:

MONTPELIER – February 3, 2016 – Gov. Peter Shumlin stood with Vermont business and education leaders today who support his call for Vermont to use divestment as a tool to help combat global warming. The Governor made the call in his State of the State address earlier this year for Vermont to follow California’s lead in divesting state pension funds from coal assets. The Governor also urged that the state go further and divest from ExxonMobil assets.

So, in short, the governor manages to eke out 100 new jobs in 12 months, and then he’s telling businesses how they should run their asset portfolio.  This from the same guy who’s crashing the state’s budget on an annual basis before slinking out of office at the end of 2016.  As others have noted, submitting revenue estimates with 6% growth rates – when the historical trends are half that number – seems like a less

If only the governor's budgets were this accurate.

If only the governor’s budgets were this accurate.

than intelligent way to formulate next-year budgets.

The first consensus revenue forecast Shumlin saw as governor in January 2011 predicted that general fund revenues would grow by close to 6 percent in the following two years. In general, forecasts have fallen since then.

This was catastrophically bad financial planning, and only a fool would assume doubled growth rates based on no reason whatsoever.

Which leaves me one question:  I wonder if Shumlin will have another 100 jobs to take credit for in 11 months, on his way out the door?

Carolina Dreamin’

Vermont:  A shining economic city on the hill.  Well, after you’re done laughing, all that’s left is to mop up the tears and the patchouli, and

If you're on the road to nowhere, do you need another highway to get there?

If you’re on the road to nowhere, do you need another highway to get there?

either move on, or move out.

The sad part of Vermont’s slow-rolling economic demise is that its politicians, its heroes of Progressivism ™ like Peter Shumlin, point to certain statistics as proof that policies are working, that Vermont is a “great” place for jobs, and that inaccurate reporting makes Vermonters leave Vermont to seek their fortunes.  Vermont makes frequent appearances on the annual Worst Economic Indicators surveys, while other states like North Carolina, which have different points of view about the size and scope of government, and make frequent appearances in surveys of Fastest Growing States, Fastest Growing Cities, or 3rd Fastest-Growing State for Women-Owned Businesses.  It’s not an accident.

Let’s check in on the realities of that Shumlin premise , and compare 10-year snapshots of economic data comparing Vermont to North Carolina, using January as the annual snapshot date.

First up:  Labor Force.  Vermont’s labor force is now sporting its lowest total number since 2005 – which, as we’ll show below, is the one and only thing keeping the state’s unemployment percentage rate low.  In fact, Vermont’s labor force is in a 5-year nosedive:

Hmm. Compare and contrast.

Hmm. One of these things is not like the other.

Next, let’s look at Employment.  The comparison below seems to run counter to Peter Shumlin’s continuing, well, exaggerations about what a “great” place Vermont is to work.  How can you claim that the state has jobs when the total number of employed is continually going down?

Only in Shumlin's world does a negative growth trend = "great"

Only in Shumlin’s world does a negative growth trend = “great”

 

How do the two states compare in Unemployment?  As you might expect, both states were smacked around by the recession.  But where Vermont and North Carolina part ways is that both Vermont’s unemployment and employment decreased.  North Carolina’s unemployment decreased, and its employment (above) increased.  That means that North Carolina’s residents found work, and went back to work.

Vermont’s residents?  Well, not so much.

 

Both states spiked during the recession, and trend south afterwards.

Both states’ unemployment spiked during the recession, and trend south afterwards.  But which state would you rather be in, if you actually want a job?

Finally, the Unemployment Rate itself is just a reflection of the total number of unemployed and the labor force, so it follows a similar trend to the above.  Vermont’s low rate, though, does not reflect a thriving economy – the rate itself hides the fact that the labor force is declining.

 

Similar to above

Similar to above – the rates of decline in unemployment are the same, but the number of people with jobs goes up in North Carolina, and goes down in Vermont.

Yet Vermont’s Vermont Dept Labor Nov 2015 Release, even with the data showing that the 3.7% rate is entirely dependent on people leaving the workforce:

Keep comparing yourself to the national UE rate as more and more Vermonters leave the workforce, if it helps you sleep at night.

Keep comparing yourself to the national UE rate as more and more Vermonters leave the workforce, if it helps you sleep at night.

In fact, if you look at the November 2014 to November 2015 employment by category, 30% of the job gains made YOY were in Government (with the biggest gains in State government).  The same public sector that can only take from the private private sector, the sector where fewer and fewer people are employed.

In fact, in the private sector, 2,000 of the 2,800 jobs gained were in Education and Health Services, and the bulk of those 2,000 jobs (1,700) were in Health Care and Social Assistance.  All other private sector categories are either negative or virtually flat.

Not good news for job hunters in the private sector.

Not good news for job hunters in the private sector.

Vermont’s next governor has what might be turning into an insurmountable task:  Righting Vermont’s economic ship of state, one that has decades of negative “progressive” momentum built up behind it, such as:

7th highest income tax rate  calm-pathological-liars

5th-highest minimum wage rate (and the higher this rate goes, the higher the unemployment rate for those at the worst end of the economic stick).

9th worst state for business.

39th for fiscal condition/solvency.

9th worst state for young adults.

After a certain point, Vermonters might start asking themselves why their political leaders paint such a rosy economic picture, when the reality for Vermonters, on the ground, is something entirely different.  Especially when the people telling them everything’s great are the ones who are paid in the Government category of decreasingly employed Vermonters.

 

 

Slaughterhouse EB-5

Further evidence that Peter Shumlin is right to let Vermont college graduates know that Vermont has good, high-paying jobs available, Seldon

Hey, it worked for Grenada!

Hey, it worked for Grenada!

Industries, a small water-purification maker in Windsor, recently shut its doors unexpectedly, leaving all 32 employees without a job.  A few weeks ago, Shumlin actually went so far as to almost beg St. Michael’s College graduates to stay in Vermont, saying:

“We’re trying to tell the story,” Shumlin said. “It’s a myth that we do not have jobs for young people in Vermont. The facts are that we have jobs.”

Just 32 less of them now, it seems.  Now it’s true that Vermont does have jobs, but when Shumlin says this, one wonders which Vermont he thinks he’s living in:

Shumlin said there are thousands of open jobs in Vermont at dozens of employers who are “clamoring” for graduates, and that many of the jobs available are high-paying. Some starting salaries are in the $90,000 to $100,000 range, he said.

The actual data on job expectations provided by his own Department of Labor tell a completely different story, as has been discussed at some length.  In terms of short-term job prospects, 9 of the top 10 jobs in terms of growth for 2013-2015 (the report is from 2014) do not require a college degree.  In fact, the one occupation that does, nursing, is not a degree offered by St. Mike’s, which might be a bit of a kick in the shins to the Purple Knights, courtesy of outgoing governor Peter Shumlin.

Seldon Industries, however, is a more unique story, in that its existence, and subsequent closing, were made possible by the EB-5 program.  A

Leahy: So you're telling me 32 Vermonters can lose their jobs with no warning in a program I support? Ha ha ha ha! Ahem.

Leahy: So you’re telling me 32 Vermonters can lose their jobs with no warning in a program I support? Ha ha ha ha! Ahem.

significant piece of its EB-5 funding was paid for by foreign nationals who “invest” in US companies, to the tune of $500,000 or $1,000,000, and in return acquire a green card.  It’s essentially allowing wealthy foreigners to jump the immigration queue, and since the dollars come from these individuals, the investments are viewed as not coming out of taxpayer pockets.  That said, Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center is run and  administered by the State of Vermont, the only state in the country to do so.  Clearly Vermont’s politicians are involved, so there is a cost and an impact being borne, in taxes and in policies being put forward – especially for those now out of a job at Seldon.  The 6 investors (there was a $3 million investment by EB5 investors at $500,000 per) are still likely to see their green cards, but the dollars and “investment” are another thing entirely.  Meaning entirely gone.

Even as recently as June, 2015, Seldon was to land a huge contract with Senator Leahy’s “help”, although now I’m sure the Senator won’t be knocking down doors finding jobs for 32 people:

Just three months ago, Seldon Technologies was celebrating a new contract to provide water purification devices to Mexican public schools. The deal, arranged with Senator Patrick Leahy’s help, was to mean production of a half million units, and Seldon officials expected to expand their 37-person workforce.

Seldon’s closing begs the question:  If they were on the verge of an enormous contract, why did they shutter the facility three months later?  Why would a US Senator pose for a photo op at a facility that had to know they were about to go under?

Other Vermont EB5 ventures, like Jay Peak, have run into controversy.  Jay Peak converted the EB-5 investments into loans, without the investors’ knowledge.  So much for the state’s oversight in running the EB-5 Regional Center:

Vermont strong? Only if foreign 1%er checks don't bounce.

Vermont strong? Only if foreign 1%-er checks don’t bounce.

The management of Jay Peak Resort is defending its right to convert $17.5 million in equity stakes held by immigrant investors into unsecured, nine-year loans. The conversion was implemented on Aug. 31, 2013, without the knowledge or consent of 35 immigrant investors who each put up $500,000 toward the construction of Tram Haus Lodge, which is part of the Jay Peak Resort. The deal was disclosed to reporters and the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center last year, but investors were not sent a copy of paperwork for the original loan until May of this year. Jay Peak has since offered a second IOU to investors that shortens the repayment period to five years. The promissory note is secured by the value of Jay Peak Resort, says company president Bill Stenger. But a group of 20 disgruntled investors question the value of the guarantee. Several say they expected to receive the principal on their investments at the end of a five-year period.

The Tram Haus Lodge, which was constructed in 2008, is the first phase of $312 million in EB-5 investments in Jay Peak Resort, located in the Northeast Kingdom.

But don’t worry, there was nothing illegal or unethical about completely re-structuring the “investment”:

The company and the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development say the decision to convert the equity investments into loans was entirely within the company’s rights.

Jay Peak owner Ariel Quiros said the transaction was “200 percent” ethical.

Oh, it’s 200% ethical.  That’s different.  I’m sure that’s twice as re-assuring to the investors who ponied up big piles of cash to have their investment re-structured without their knowledge, at the whim of Jay Peak, all done under the guidance and oversight of the State of Vermont.

One of the selling points of EB-5 is that the money is an investment, with a return – but the reality is that there is no guarantee on the funds, on re-payment, on ROI, nothing.  But those facts are clearly not emphasized to foreign investors, who were completely taken by surprise by Jay Peak’s actions.

Another EB5 project in Vermont, AnC/Bio, a medical company specializing in stem-cell technology, plans to build a brand-new manufacturing and research facility in that well-known, high-tech, Silicon Valley East corridor of northern Vermont known as “Newport”.  Clearly, if you’re thinking about building a cutting-edge technology center, anywhere in the US, you’d first think “Newport, Vermont.  Obviously!”.  The project’s developer, Bill Stenger – the same Jay Peak developer – says it will create about 400-450 jobs:

And he says Vermont is a good place for those 400-450 jobs to be created. About half will be local workers trained to make devices, and the rest will be scientists.

“Because we’re close to major colleges and universities. There are a tremendous number of reasons why living and working in our part of Vermont has value. Safe, clean, environmentally beautiful, a facility that’s state of the art and debt-free,” Stenger said.

Vermont’s major colleges and universities are located in Burlington – at least those that offer significant degrees in STEM fields.  I didn’t realize Vermont had an extra 200 scientists just lazing around coffeehouses in Burlington.  Burlington to Newport is 2 hours by car.  Is Stenger assuming PhD candidates at UVM will move to Newport to work at AnC/Bio?

Investors will seize an opportunity, whether it comes from the private or the public sector.  In this case, it’s politicians seizing the opportunity by looking for investments that are completely outside of the normal taxation realm, trading cash from the foreign 1% for US citizenship, just as long as they can make it look like the money is going to create jobs.  In fact, if indirect jobs are claimed to be created, that also helps sell the EB-5 “investment”, meaning if a local deli gets more customers because a new factory went up outside of town from an EB-5 investment, then that indirect job counts.  Except that estimating what jobs might be created isn’t an empirical matter; it’s completely guesswork, and open to spurious claims of job creation, by both the EB-5 project and the politicians that love them.

So what our politicians are telling foreigners is:  If you’re wealthy, you get to the cut to the front of the line.  What’s interesting is that the same politicians supporting EB-5 as a way to generate growth are frequently the same politicians who publicly demonize the domestic 1%.

As others have noted, it’s really just the fastest way to get a green card, for 10,000 wealthy foreigners per year:

“There have been some rare but highly publicized failures in the EB-5 program,” said Steve Yale-Loehr, an immigration lawyer at Miller Mayer and a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School.

Foreign interest in the EB-5 program has grown dramatically in the last few years. Applications were sluggish until the recession, Yale-Loehr said. But then, when domestic financing for construction projects was tough to find, some developers started to look overseas for financing.
There were just 700 visas issued in 2007; in 2014, for the first time ever, the program reached its quota of 10,000 visas through the EB-5 program and had to stop accepting applications. The quota was reached again this year.
For wealthy foreigners, the EB-5 program is the best bet for getting U.S. citizenship. Other options—finding an employer or a family member to sponsor them—have long backlogs and a lot of paperwork. The EB-5, by contrast, is a relative breeze.

“Most of them are doing it because they want the green card and it’s the fastest or best way to get a green card,” Yale-Loehr said.

Great for the crony! For everyone else, not so much.

Great for the crony! For everyone else, not so much.

Unfortunately for Vermonters, if the “investment” tanks, the loser is not the State of Vermont, it might be the person who ponied up half a million under the assumption that this money meant a real investment, but it most certainly is the Vermonter who thought they had a job at Seldon Technologies.  Especially when their own Senator proudly claims it as one of his accomplishments in June, but is nowhere to be seen come the shutdown in September.

Oh, and if you happen to be the head of the state’s EB-5 program, and then, shockingly, find yourself working for Mt. Snow after it received $52 million in EB-5 funding?  Well, hey, that’s just cronyism.  Er, I mean, “coincidence”.