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Scott Buckingham commentary ~ My turn: Growing our future economy

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2012-04-11

Vermont has an extraordinary and growing wealth of talent, energy, and entrepreneurial interest in its agricultural and forest products sectors. With the state's working lands economy at a turning point, a flood of interest from young entrepreneurs, and existing businesses wishing to grow the Vermont brand and economy, the future of our working lands based sectors can -- and should -- be bright.

Through my work and associations over the past several years with Shelburne Farms, the Vermont Cheese Council and the Interval Center, among others, I have firsthand experience in the exciting entrepreneurial energy that is moving Vermont's economy into the future. Simultaneously, however, I have developed a deeper appreciation and understanding of the significant barriers that continue to hinder growth of our agricultural and forest products businesses and entrepreneurs. Key barriers include access to capital funds -- both traditional and non-traditional -- to start and grow promising businesses, as well as a lack of targeted technical and regulatory assistance that address the unique complexities and challenges to starting lands-based businesses in this day and age.

That's why I am excited to see the state Legislature moving closer to enactment of a bill that will support and nurture a vibrant lands based economy in our state. Recently, both the Vermont House and Senate Agriculture committees unanimously passed similar versions of the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Bill. Both versions of the bill are now working their way through the legislative process, and I hope will take shape as a single bill that will be passed into law this session.

This is a golden opportunity for Vermont. This bill would provide a huge boost for both the agriculture and forest products sectors by directly addressing the obstacles currently facing these important sectors. By passing the Working Lands Enterprise Bill, the state will stimulate economic development, create jobs, provide local businesses with critical financing capacity and technical assistance, promote and capitalize on Vermont brand recognition, mitigate food security risk and enhance the future of travel and tourism.

Additionally, the bill puts the forest products industry on equal footing with entrepreneurial agriculture. This is an important evolution of policy; although forestry and agriculture are fundamentally intertwined, the forest products industry has not received equal attention and support of state policy makers. There is no reason that Vermont's forest products industry shouldn't receive the same type of growth in interest, energy and recognition as our budding agricultural sector.

The Working Lands Enterprise Bill is not a partisan political project. Through weeks of testimony and committee discussion, both the House and Senate Agriculture committees have crafted solid bills which balance the suggestions of those who make up the working lands economy with the realities of state budgetary constraints. Both committees passed the bill with unanimous, non-partisan votes. Every member of both of those committees deserves our gratitude.

As the bills go through the legislative process, the discussion has turned from policy to funding. I strongly believe that this bill needs to be fully funded. However, I believe that the legislature should work creatively to fund the bill in a way that is sustainable and does not take away from critical service and programs that provide a safety net in these challenging economic times. I recognize that this is a difficult task, but I have faith that this Legislature is up to the challenge. We are a state that accomplishes difficult tasks, and this one benefits us all by providing economic opportunity, new jobs and increased quality of life. Please contact your legislators and urge them to fully fund the Working Lands Enterprise Bill.

Scott Buckingham of Hinesburg is a member of the Public Policy Committee of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Printed in the Burlington Free Press: www.burlingtonfreepress.com