House Commerce’s Workforce Field Hearing

The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee hit the road this week to learn more about the programs they will take up in the Senate’s economic development bill, which is expected to make its way to the Committee late next week. The first stop was the City of St. Albans, where the Committee saw progress in the downtown revitalization projects made possible through tax increment financing (TIF). St. Albans City has utilized TIF to intentionally invest in sustainable development, increase workforce housing, improve public spaces, and attract Main Street businesses to previously vacant storefronts, resulting in a renewed vibrancy in the downtown.

The next stop was the former Energizer plant in St. Albans Town, which Beta Technologies may acquire as a battery testing facility. Beta was approved for a Vermont Employment Growth Incentive (VEGI) to create at least 60 jobs, but likely hundreds, over five years, giving the St. Albans site an edge over competing locations such as Plattsburgh. Later, the Committee stopped by the Northwest Career and Technical Center to get an up-close look at the benefits of career and technical education (CTE). The CTE system has been struggling for decades as the education system pits traditional high schools against technical centers for tuition dollars. Despite repeated legislative study committees and reports over the years, the Legislature has yet to attempt a fix that would allow for growth in the training programs preparing the next generation of workers for the jobs of the future.

Finally, the Committee visited Black Flannel Brewing & Distilling in Essex, a Vermont Chamber member business that opened during the pandemic and, despite all odds, is growing. Founder Chris Kesler testified last week before the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee in support of a VEDA forgivable loan program with enough flexibility to accommodate businesses like Black Flannel, which have taken on enormous debt to stay afloat and need support to thrive.

Meanwhile, the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee began work on the House’s workforce development bill, H.703. There is a lot to cover in very little time, as legislators anticipate adjournment in May.