Workforce and Economic Development Bills Combined, With Revisions, as Adjournment Looms

With an eye on the Legislature’s May 6 target adjournment date, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee combined the workforce development bill with pieces of the economic development bill into a new vehicle, with some notable changes. The VEDA forgivable loans received an additional allocation of $4 million, for a total of $19 million. Many of the technical changes that the Vermont Chamber advocated for will be added, including raising the cap on each loan to $500,000 or six months of operating expenses, eligibility based on a 20% reduction of net operating income, and the removal of language requiring at least 50% of the reduction of operating income to have occurred in 2021. In addition, the Capital Investment Grant Program has been restored, but at only $10.2 million, and $9 million has been allocated for the Creative Economy Grants. Notably from the bill is a minimum wage hike, as well as any relocating worker incentives and marketing funding.

The Vermont Chamber has long advocated for sustained efforts to grow the workforce by recruiting new people to move here to work and raise their families, because there are simply not enough people in the state to fill the jobs available. Unfortunately, the House has yet to realize that recruitment is important, while the Senate continues to support this direction. is still a chance that this important funding could be restored before the bill is finalized, so the Vermont Chamber advocacy team will work to secure this program. This problem cannot wait another year to be addressed, but with legislators intent on returning home to campaign by the end of next week, it seems that the House plan is to wait and hope the problem resolves itself. The demographic trends spell trouble for the workforce, and inaction will only lead to stagnation.