by Timothy McQuiston Vermont Life Magazine will remain part of state government, Commerce Secretary Michael Schirling told the House Appropriations Committee Thursday. The Agency of Commerce & Community Development received nine bids last fall following a state request for proposal that solicited bids to privatize the 70-year-old publication.
One factor he cited, without giving specifics, was that none of the bids offered sufficient cash for the state’s flagship branding publication. The magazine and associated calendars and products generate about $1.2 million a year in revenue.
The publication in recent years was running upwards of a $400,000 deficit and accumulated about $3 million in debt.
Schirling said, however, that, “We’ll be in the black this year,” and with a smile he added, “$2,400.”
The other major factor, he said, is that the Vermont Life team is integrated into the Commerce Agency beyond just the magazine. For instance, they recently updated the Economic Development Department’s ThinkVermont.com Website.
The Commerce Agency includes Vermont Life, Economic Development, Housing and the Tourism Department. Taking that team out of the Agency would cause other complications if the publication was sold.
One significant development, and significant cost savings, is that they will not hire a new editor. Mary Hegarty (Nowlan) left last June to become Vice President of Marketing at the VNA.
Nowlan had been editor since 2007. She instituted several changes, including the masthead, a different printing stock and a newsier edge. She also brought the publication into the digital age.
Schirling said that while plans have not been fully fleshed out, they intend to involve Vermont Life more generally into the Agency and want to find ways for it to help out in workforce development, recruitment, and retention, especially of youth, here in Vermont, while retaining its association with the state’s marketing efforts.
Governor Phil Scott had mentioned during the campaign in 2016 that he would consider privatizing Vermont Life because of its ongoing deficit. He reiterated that possibility early on as governor and suggested that it could also close down.
The Legislature has been calling for an end to subsidies for Vermont Life, which if enacted in recent years could have killed the publication.
At the time of the RFP, the administration said it was open to a variety of proposals for Vermont Life, including a full purchase of the magazine, a licensing agreement, or a public-private partnership. It was founded in 1946.