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By Dan D’Ambrosio, Burlington Free Press Staff Writer, Friday May 13, 2011
Gov. Peter Shumlin credited the Vermont business community’s focus on social responsibility as a spur toward the dollars-and-cents success the state is experiencing.
The emphasis is creating a climate that is making Vermont a “bastion of economic opportunities,” the governor said at Thursday’s annual spring conference of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility in Burlington.
“The other 49 states will wish they were us if we get it right,” Shumlin said. “I pledge to work with you 24/7 to get it right.”
Vermont’s unemployment rate has been around 5.5 percent in recent months, and Chittenden County’s rate has been around 4.7 percent — both figures are far below the national unemployment rate of close to 9 percent.
The state is home to growing companies including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Waterbury, whose net income and stock price have soared in recent years. In many cases, these companies put an emphasis on issues such as fair trade, the environment and sustainability.
The conference included a series of 13 workshops on subjects ranging from a review of the 2011 legislative session to advice on using social media.
One of the first workshops Thursday was called “Rutland: The Drive for Economic Revival.” The workshop drew about 50 people for a discussion of a recent documentary, “The Blood in this Town,” by Art Jones of Great Jones Productions in New York City, which used Rutland’s record-breaking Gift-of-Life Marathon blood drive to “explore how a struggling, post-industrial town can revive itself from the grassroots up.”
A panel of Rutland residents who have been instrumental in that revival were on hand for a discussion of the documentary and their community. One of those residents, Michael Smith, took it on himself to transform a neglected city park, Pine Hill Park, into a popular mountain bike park, with the help of local high school students and others.
Smith said it’s important for towns like Rutland to take their futures into their own hands, no matter how small they might seem.
“Everybody is waiting for some big company to move in and save the day,” Smith said. “You can’t wait for that.”
Andrea Cohen, executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said the annual conference is a chance for some of the organization’s 1,200 members across the state to come together and share ideas for how to continue building the state’s economy.
“Our membership thinks Vermont is a great place to do business,” Cohen said. “Whether you’re selling socks, cheese, or web services, the Vermont brand is associated with quality.”