AUGUST / SEPTEMBER, 2014
One Step Forward…
For decades now Southwestern Vermont has had to compete with substantially less public infrastructure than much of our surrounding region. While communities to our north, south, east and west enjoyed interstate high ways, rail corridors, flight options, and fuel choices, we were left to compete with our strongest and best asset, our people. To this day the employees in the region out-produce their global competition. This productivity largely has offset some of the higher costs associated with locating a business in the Rutland region. In today’s manufacturing world, to remain competitive companies must automate production processes.
This ultimately means there will be less of a competitive advantage attributable to workforce for us to continue to rely on as the asset driving our economic well-being.
The result is a need for us to work to address all cost drivers for doing business in the region. There are two primary areas we can directly impact positively in the immediate future. First, we need to aggressively develop workforce training for incumbent workers. The skills of yesterday no longer apply without integrating new knowledge, and our existing workforce needs to have technical skills training to remain productive. At the same time we have to act now to develop training programs to develop a strong pool of new employees. As much as 35% of our regional manufacturing workforce is within 10 years of retirement. This is both a concern and an opportunity, as these are good living wage jobs that can and should be filled by students currently in our local high schools and tech centers. But we need to be sure they have the training and skills that prepare them for the next generation production techniques, to get ahead of the curve, not following.
The second area has to be the extension of the natural gas pipeline to the region. The disadvantage we currently have negatively impacts the competitiveness of our existing base, and eliminates us in many cases from competing for new business. REDC, in partnership with the Chamber, has asked Vermont Gas Systems to expedite the process for bringing natural gas to Rutland. We have also continued our support for Phase 2 of the expansion, because it is a vital step in bringing natural gas to Rutland sooner. Some have tried to make the case that Vermont receives no benefit from the line to International Paper in New York. This attitude defies logic if you can accept that Phase 2 was dependent on Phase 1, and Phase 3 (theone that gets natural gas to us) is dependent on Phase 2. We need to send a clear and consistent message that our region needs accessto this alternative fuel source.