by Ben Kinsley
Alright folks, here’s the problem; no one knows what the heck to do about economic recovery from Covid-19 and perhaps rightly so. The last time it was done was over 100 years ago and today’s economy looks much different than at the end of the last pandemic in industrial 1918 United States.
Here are a few things we do know:
- Vermont recovered more quickly from the 2008 recession than the rest of the country.
- Vermont did not see the explosive GDP growth that the US experienced in 2018-19.
- Our economy was constricted by a lack of qualified workforce prior to the pandemic.
- The tourism, restaurant, retail and manufacturing businesses were most impacted by Covid-19.
If you look at the list of bills the legislature has passed so far, you might be tempted to think they are focused on the pandemic. However, if you look a little closer, you can see that these bills are actually reactionary. They would direct federal funding to emergency housing, food banks, and childcare assistance; all worthy programs, but they serve the immediate need, not the future need six months to a year from now. This is a tempting trap to fall into. It’s easy when you are in crisis mode to only deal with what is right in front of you. It’s natural to tune out long-term issues and focus all your energy and resources at immediate problems in order to survive the moment. The problem, of course, is that we are now a year into this crisis and it is time to start thinking beyond the issue most directly in front of us.
This is the piece that is sorely lacking in the legislature; planning and forward thinking. To be honest, the Administration hasn’t been much better. They have been so focused on the vaccination program and meeting basic needs that all there is little leftover energy to ponder where we need to be six months from now. The good news? Most other states are in the same boat – too myopically focused on today’s crisis and not tomorrow’s. This, by the way, is how we ended up with a looming pension fund liability and a lake that will take decades to recover, but those are topics for another time.
So, what can we do? We can offer a clear vision for the state to move toward; one that takes into account our current public health crisis, pension liability catastrophe, as well as our collapsing economy. One that offers our failing small businesses a path back toward prosperity. I am astounded at how many empty storefronts we have as I drive around the state. Restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, souvenir shops, and even gas stations are gone. They are not coming back, but there are plenty more small businesses that could still survive. Let’s talk about how we can help them do this.
Over the next couple weeks we will be releasing three phases of this plan; focusing on economic recovery over the next year, the next 2-3 years, and five years and beyond. The economy of tomorrow is not going to look like the economy of yesterday. There are significant changes happening and we can position Vermont to take advantage of them. We have already shared select pieces of our plan with key legislators and we will be advocating for a cohesive forward-thinking legislative strategy for the remainder of the legislative session.
Ben Kinsley is Secretary of the Campaign for Vermont Board of Directors