The Word in the House 4/9/2012 - Working Landscapes

The defining characteristic of Vermont is its rural nature and the connection Vermonters have to their environment.  The Working Lands Enterprise Investment Bill, H.496, passed by the House recently, recognizes this relationship and provides support to stimulate a concerted economic development effort on behalf of Vermont’s agriculture and forest products sectors.  It will assist entrepreneurism, business development, and job creation in these sectors.

Vermont is currently in the midst of an agricultural renaissance and is at the forefront of the local foods movement.  Much of this activity takes place in our own communities of Charlotte, Hinesburg, and surrounding towns.  The conversion of agricultural and forest products into value-added products within Vermont’s borders represents further economic and employment opportunities.  About 7,000 jobs exist in the forest products sector and about 57,000 are related to the food system.

H.496 makes an investment in Vermont’s working landscape by creating the Working Lands Enterprise Fund and a Working Lands Enterprise Board.  The fund, initially appropriated at $2.1 million, will be used for direct investment in working lands enterprises.  Approximately $550,000 will provide grants to entrepreneurs, including grants to leverage private capital, to jump-start new businesses, to help beginning farmers access land, and to support diversification projects to add value to farm and forest commodities.  Another $350,000 is allocated for “wrap-around” services to growth companies, including technical assistance, business planning, and financing required by companies ready to transition to the next stage of growth.  $800,000 is included for state infrastructure investments, including investment in private and non-profit sectors for creative diversification projects and value-added manufacturing, processing, storage and distribution.  Finally, about $382,000 is allocated for administration by the Agency of Agriculture.

The Working Lands Enterprise board would oversee and administer the fund and coordinate the enterprise development efforts throughout the state.  In addition to promoting the activities described above, it would also establish and evaluate criteria and benchmarks for investments and solicit appropriate perspectives and information from experts.  The board will replace the Agriculture Innovation Center which had similar but more limited responsibilities.

The investment in Vermont’s working landscape will ensure that Vermont will retain its rural and natural character and will continue to represent the vision that people associate with our state, contributing to the tourism sector of our economy in the process. 

On the redistricting front, there were changes to both the House and Senate redistricting plans that affect Charlotte and Hinesburg.  After much deliberation and review of the deviations from the ideal district sizes, the House Government Operations committee presented their final version of the redistricting plan.  One of the changes was the expansion of the section of Hinesburg attached to the Charlotte house district.  In this final version the southwestern portion of Hinesburg bordered by Drinkwater Rd, Baldwin Rd, and the Monkton town line with 33 residents will remain in the Charlotte district.  The rest of Hinesburg will comprise the other district.

The Senate finally voted its reapportionment plan out of its Government Operations committee.  In order to balance the population changes, Chittenden County had to cede part of its population to Addison County.  The new plan joins Huntington and Buels Gore to the Addison County senatorial district instead of Charlotte, which will remain in the Chittenden County senatorial district.