The Commission on the Future of Vermont
In Part 1 we discussed the need to transform Vermont into a modern, resilient state where its people can grow and prosper. We will keep refining that notion, adding issues and challenges to the list.
Now let’s discuss how a governor would BEGIN.
We need a strategy to grow Vermont’s prosperity in the next generation.
The old ways no longer work. The technology that has disrupted our economy in the last 20 years is child’s play compared to what is coming: driverless cars, artificial intelligence, climate impact.
The old: Large conventional dairy farms, IBM/Global Foundries, bad Internet/cell service, shopping malls, incremental change in education models, gasoline engines.
What’s coming can either be good and beneficial for Vermonters – niche retail, trades education, consulting, land-based companies, technology firms, regenerative agriculture, remote work, vibrant arts/humanities, philanthropy, new forms of connection and community, good health via exercise and real local food, electric transportation.
Or bad: out of control health costs, obesity, dependency, and living at the mercy of a global efficiency economy that doesn’t value human-scale living.
Here’s what I know. The future is small. Big is over. Smaller farms, niche technology businesses, turbo-charged education, and training – based on lifestyle and remote work – all powered by high-speed internet, a regional airport with small air taxis to other cities and a train that gets you to NYC in less than eight hours.
Vermont is well-positioned to take advantage of its key attributes to build this future – clean air, clean water, creative schools, grass, soil, human capital and imagination, honest government, human-scale communities.
As I said in Part 1, we need a new generation of Vermonters, some born in this century, who have the skills and the hunger to forge this new society.
To that end – as a first step – I would appoint a blue-ribbon panel – The Commission on the Future of Vermont – to explore and debate the future of the state. The commission would write a strategic plan for the future, an economic development strategy for the next generation.
The commission would have co-chairs, Vermonters with expertise from all sectors and professional staff. This would not be another report to collect dust and be ignored. It would make hard choices and deliver a series of recommendations to the legislature for action. It would hold public hearings in each county. It would conclude with a two-day conference in Montpelier and Manchester where the commission releases its recommendations and then discusses their deliberations in public.
The commission members would be volunteers and the staff would be paid. The commission would work for a year, meeting monthly and in committees more frequently. Experts would be brought in from around the country. This is serious work, not a political show. And the report would serve as a roadmap for the next governor to work with the legislature to implement the proposals. Legislators would sit on the commission so they would be ready to lead the discussion in the General Assembly.
The meetings would be live-streamed and available to the public via the web and social media.
The goal is a plan designed by Vermonters for Vermonters, in community with each other. We would gather wisdom, knowledge, and expertise from everywhere, from different generations and backgrounds. My hope is that the report’s impact will last for years and that the commission would serve as a mini-think-tank for the legislature and the governor to pursue the policies we need to attract new Vermonters and grow the economy.
The central question? How do we turn Vermont into a place where people want to live and work, and in turn create a new, modern rural economy that benefits all.
Everything is on the table – except cell phones and political agendas. They are to be left outside the room.
I have a rough draft list of potential commission members that I would suggest, people whom I respect. But my list is limited by my relationships and prejudices. I invite you to submit your own in the comments section of the blog. Every Vermonter has a circle of friends who can contribute. I’ll post my list soon.
Keep reading this series with Part 3.