News in Brief October 2018

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News in Brief October 2018

Sat, 11/10/2018 - 11:20am -- tim

Moody’s downgrades Vermont's bond rating

Moody’s Investors Service have announced that the state’s Aaa bond rating was revised downward to Aa1 with a stable outlook. Downgrading a bond rating leads to higher financing costs. For several years Vermont has maintained a superior bond rating. The state's aging population and relatively high pension liabilities were mentioned as two contributing factors in the downgrade. Treasurer Pearce said it will cost the state about $1 million for every $150 million borrowed.

Feds OK Vermont Yankee sale to NorthStar

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the transfer of Vermont Yankee's operating license to Northstar Group Services, a private demolition and decommissioning firm based in New York. The 605-megawatt Vernon nuclear power plant closed in December 2014. It’s currently owned by Entergy of Louisiana. Northstar wants to clean up the site by 2030, as opposed to a 60-year mothballing process known as SAFSTOR that Entergy had scheduled. It's estimated it will cost $495 million to decommission the plant, with $513 million available in 2019 from the decommissioning fund, with $30 million held in escrow in case of overruns. The final approval for the transfer is expected to come from the Vermont PUC in the next few months.

Unemployment rate up one-tenth to 2.9 percent in September

The Vermont Department of Labor has announced that the seasonally-adjusted statewide unemployment rate for September was 2.9 percent. This reflects an increase of one-tenth of one percentage point from the revised August rate. The rate had been unchanged since February. The rate has not gone up officially since April 2009 (6.7 percent to 6.9 percent), resulting from the Great Recession. However, because of the nature of these numbers, they could be further adjusted, which could result in a lowering of the rate, as has happened before. Data for the labor force and number employed fell by nearly an identical amount (just over 1,000), while the number of unemployed was virtually unchanged from the previous month. Overall, Vermont’s unemployment rate was tied for 8th lowest in the country; Hawaii is first at 2.2 percent, New Hampshire is tied for third at 2.7 percent and Alaska is last at 6.5 percent.

GF tax revenues strong, Transpo and Ed can’t keep up

Personal income tax revenues, Vermont's most vital revenue source, continues to exceed targets. General Fund tax revenues collected for the month of September totaled $137.88 million, or $11.95 million above the monthly consensus revenue target. The Corporate tax was half-again above its target in helping to drive GF revenues. While the Rooms & Meals tax, which largely tracks tourism activity, finished slightly below targets.

Meanwhile, the Transportation and Education funds were weaker. The Sales & Use tax has been fully shifted to the Education Fund and lagged again. Sales tax expectations have been weakened over the last few years because of Internet sales. However, it is exceeding totals from the same period a year ago.

For Transportation, all the major revenue sources fell short. Motor fuel and vehicle purchase revenues were both down across the board. A new phenomenon in vehicle purchase is the recent rise in used car sales, which now exceed new car sales across the nation. Gasoline prices also continue to slowly increase in price, which could be suppressing how much Vermonters are driving.

Keurig Dr Pepper to cut 118 Vermont jobs

Keurig Dr Pepper is laying off 118 Vermont employees as part of its merger between the Waterbury-based coffee company and Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple. About 500 jobs will be cut systemwide. Keurig left its South Burlington (Technology Park) office building in September and consolidated those office jobs in Waterbury.

Brattleboro Retreat and nurses finalize one-year contract

The union representing over half the staff at the Brattleboro Retreat have ratified a one-year contract. The summer had been a bitter one between management and workers following a sweeping schedule change for employees. Union members at times engaged in "informational pickets" at the private psychiatric hospital but   did not go on strike. While addressing those scheduling concerns, the new contract includes a $15 an hour minimum wage and sets a new pay scale for direct care staff.

The existing three-year contract expired October 31. The Brattleboro Retreat Local 5086 became part of United Nurses & Allied Professionals in 1999. The union represents about 550 nurses and mental health workers at the 870-employee facility.

Superior Technical Ceramics acquired by private equity firm

Superior Technical Ceramics, based in St Albans, has been acquired by Artemis Capital Partners, a private equity firm founded in 2010 and based in Boston. STC, a privately held company with 162 employees, occupies a campus encompassing 135,000 square feet of manufacturing space. It will remain at this location. Financial terms were not disclosed.

EPA awards Vermont $19 million for local clean water projects

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the State of Vermont was awarded a total of $18,966,000 in Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) grants to finance community-based water infrastructure projects, such as upgrades to municipal sewage plants and public drinking water systems.

Miami firm acquires MyWebGrocer

Miami-based Mi9 Retail, a provider of end-to-end software solutions for retailers, wholesalers, and brands, has signed a contract to acquire MyWebGrocer (MWG), a leading software and digital media company to the grocery and Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industries based in Winooski. Financial terms were not disclosed. MWG was founded by the Tarrant family in 1999. It moved into the Champlain Mill in June 2011 as part of a major redevelopment of downtown Winooski.

MWG was previously sold to California private equity firm HGGC in 2012, who itself had acquired it from New York investor Stripes Group. The Stripes investment occurred in 2009, with the Tarrant brothers retaining minority ownership.

The Tarrants will continue to own the Champlain Mill and will have a small equity stake in Mi9, but will no longer manage the company, which will remain in Winooski. At last count it employed 160 in Vermont and 315 systemwide.

State awards $2.8 million for village and downtown projects

Governor Phil Scott has announced the allocation of $2.8 million in state tax incentives for 16 projects, supporting more than $324 million in downtown and village center construction and rehabilitation efforts across the state.

USDA approves $7.4 million loan to fund Winooski downtown revitalization

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $181 million in 88 projects that will build community infrastructure and facilities in 27 states including Vermont. USDA has approved a loan for $7.4 million for the City of Winooski.

Weinberger appoints Darren Springer as GM of Burlington Electric

Mayor Miro Weinberger has appointed Darren Springer as General Manager of the Burlington Electric Department. Springer brings extensive experience in the energy field to the position, including at the federal, state, and local levels of government. Weinberger chose to stay in-house for the appointment after a national search for a new GM. Springer, 38, joined BED last year. He previously worked in the Shumlin Administration, rising to chief of staff. His salary will be in the range of $175,000-$229,000, which will be determined by a formula that includes experience and educational attainment. Springer has also worked for Senator Bernie Sanders. His predecessor, Neale Lunderville, who moved over to City Hall last May to lead the Community & Economic Development Office, at one time worked for Republican Governor Jim Douglas. He also was appointed by Weinberger.

Vermont now using only ultra-low sulfur heating oil

All of Vermont will be using ultra-low sulfur heating oil this winter. As part of the 2011 Energy Act, the “Clean and Green Oilheat Initiative mandated Ultra-Low Sulfur Heating Oil, starting in the winter of 2018. The rest of New England, New York and New Jersey have also adopted the same 15 parts-per-million (ppm) standard. Ultra Low Sulfur Heating Oil (ULSHO) will reduce particulate emissions, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

DoubleTree by Hilton Burlington sold for $35 million

RLJ Lodging Trust (NYSE:RLJ) has sold the 309-room DoubleTree by Hilton Burlington Vermont (formerly the Sheraton) for $35.0 million. Based on the trailing 12 months ended August 2018, the sales price represents a 17.3x EBITDA multiple and 4.5 percent capitalization rate, inclusive of required capital expenditures. The buyer is AAM 15 Management, LLC based in Burlington, MA. AAM 15 is a real estate investment and hospitality management firm. Its portfolio includes Residence Inn Burlington in Colchester.

MassMutual pledges $5 million to UVM's Complex Systems Center

Expanding its relationship with the University of Vermont’s Complex Systems Center, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company is providing $5 million in funding to further advance study and research in the field of data science and analytics. MassMutual Chairman and CEO Roger Crandall is a UVM grad, class of 1987. The funding from MassMutual represents the largest corporate gift in UVM's history.

Federal small business loans top $44.8 million in Vermont

The Small Business Administration supported $44,780,792 in loans to Vermont small businesses from October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018, the US federal government’s fiscal year. Vermont increased its loan amount by 11 percent compared to fiscal year 2017 when it guaranteed $40,341,365 million in loans. Of that 16 percent supported Vermont beer, spirits and cider.

UVM gets $12.3 million NIH grant to establish infectious disease center

Tuberculosis is still a global problem. Another problem is that it can visually mimic lung cancer leading to problems of diagnosis and treatment. Leaders at the University of Vermont and Larner College of Medicine have announced $12.3 million in funding for a new Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) called the “Translational Global Infectious Disease Research Center” (TGIR). This endeavor will help in the fight against TB and other diseases. Lower income countries are especially vulnerable to TB.

Unemployment insurance tax relief, minimum wage hike coming

The Vermont Department of Labor has announced changes to the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program and the State minimum wage. Beginning January 1, 2019, employers will see a reduction in the taxable wage base amount that they currently pay on unemployment taxes by $2,000. Also beginning January 1, 2019, the State’s minimum wage will increase to $10.78 per hour.

TSX delists Northern Power Systems Corp

Northern Power Systems Corp, a wind turbine and energy storage technology company based in Barre, has been delisted by the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), effective October 22, 2018, for failure to comply with the TSX continued listing requirements. The firm has lost significant contracts and its market cap (the value of its stock) has fallen below the $3 million threshold. The future of the manufacturer as a going concern is uncertain.

VEDA sets record for total amount of financings closed, $167.8 million

In FY 2018, VEDA closed a record number of financings -- a total of $167.8 million. This amount is 1.8x the largest previous annual volume in the Authority's history. The amount of private capital leveraged in the projects financed was $93.3 million.

DR Power Equipment to move HQ, jobs out of Vergennes

DR Power Equipment is moving its headquarters from Vergennes to South Burlington and relocating some operations to Wisconsin, home of its parent company, Generac.  Generac has already eliminated some Vermont positions, but any employees affected by this latest action will be offered other jobs within the company. Generac bought DR in 2015. DR makes and sells direct-to-consumer yard and lawn equipment.

New UVM arena construction could begin this winter

The UVM Board of Trustees has passed resolutions that lay out a specific financial plan for the Athletic Department’s Multi-Purpose Facility project and pave the way for construction at the current athletic complex to begin as early as this winter, pending receipt of all the necessary permits. Plans to build or refurbish the arena complex have been off-and-on for nearly 30 years, with sites including the UVM campus, downtown Burlington and South Burlington off Dorset Street.

Vermont school test scores show improvement

The Vermont Agency of Education has released results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Program. These relatively new scores replace the "No Child Left Behind" assessments. The new results indicate small progress, especially in English.

Goddard College placed on probation

At its meeting on September 21, 2018, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) voted to place Plainfield-based Goddard College on probation October 10 for a period not to exceed two years because the Commission found that Goddard College does not now meet the Commission’s standards on Institutional Resources and Organization and Governance. As previously reported, the accreditor was considering such a move because of the college's financial situation.

Dr Bernard Bull chosen Goddard College’s next president

Dr Bernard Bull has been named Goddard College’s next president. Dr Bull most recently served as Chief Innovation Officer, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Innovation, and Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin. He will be moving here from Wisconsin and is scheduled to begin his role as president on November 1, 2018.

Coventry landfill expansion gets final approval

Overcoming some local opposition, and even from nearby Quebecers, the Agency of Natural Resources has approved a 51-acre expansion of the Coventry landfill. Owned by Casella, it is the only landfill in Vermont.

Propane heater possible cause of Vermont Country Store fire

On October 20, 2018, the Clarendon Fire Department responded to a fire alarm activation at a warehouse owned and operated by the Vermont Country Store. The 16,000-square-foot warehouse stored overflow stock items for the VCS. It held approximately 5 percent of the stores stock. It was valued at over a $2 million loss.

RuralEdge in NEK gets $2.5 million for affordable housing

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) has announced that RuralEdge, a regional housing nonprofit based in Lyndon, will receive a $2.5 million loan package from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to preserve and rehabilitate three housing properties in Newport, West Burke and Ryegate.

Ag Agency approves $1 million to fund water quality improvement

The Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets has announced up to $1,000,000 is available in funding to improve water quality. The Capital Equipment Assistance Program (CEAP) is available for new or innovative equipment that will aid in the reduction of surface runoff of agricultural wastes to state waters, improve water quality, reduce odors from manure application, separate phosphorus from manure, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce costs to farmers when they apply manure or implement a Nutrient Management Plan (NMP).  Eligible recipients include custom applicators, non-profit organizations, and farmers.

Vermont still has the highest tuition

The College Board's 2018 Trends in Higher Education report shows a continuation of moderate growth in college prices and grant aid and declines in undergraduate student borrowing. For in-state students at public colleges, Vermont ($16,610) has the highest tuition in the nation; New Hampshire ($16,460) ranks second.

Better amenities on the way for public at Waterbury Reservoir

Eight months of work is underway to improve public access areas at the Waterbury Reservoir. The project will require temporary closures at some sites while work is underway, and will include improvements to parking lots, erosion prevention, and boat ramp upgrades. The locations include Waterbury Dam Boat Launch, Blush Hill Boat Launch and the Moscow Paddler Access. GMP, which owns the dam and hydro plant, recently received a renewed license from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission to operate a hydropower generation facility at the Waterbury Dam.

Killington and Mount Snow already open for skiing

Killington Resort, the largest ski and snowboard destination in Eastern North America, opened on Friday, October 19, becoming the first Eastern resort to open for skiing and snowboarding. Hard on its boots, Mount Snow just across the Green Mountains in Windham County opened the following weekend.

Target hits Vermont

Vermont now finally has a Target. The new store at the University Mall in South Burlington officially opened October 21 and will complete the circuit for the Minneapolis-based retailer, which will now be in every state.

VLS professor discloses effort to discredit Robert Mueller

As first reported by Seven Days, in late October, “A man claiming to work for a private intelligence agency contacted a Vermont Law School professor last week and offered to pay her for dirt on Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”

VLS Professor Jennifer Taub received an email on October 22 from “Simon Frick,” a researcher from a group called Surefire Intelligence. Frick asked Taub for her "beginning rate" to talk about any encounters with Mueller and offered to pay her "for any references that you may have."

Taub then contacted Mueller’s office with the email encounter. The story was then picked up by The Atlantic and other news media. The FBI also became involved in what appears to be an apparent right-wing scheme to discredit the special prosecutor.

UVM trustees approve removal of Bailey’s name from library

The University of Vermont Board of Trustees has voted to remove the name of Guy W Bailey, UVM’s 13th president, from the main university library. The official name for the building, previously Guy W Bailey/David W. Howe Memorial Library, will be David W Howe Memorial Library. Bailey is linked to the eugenics movement in the early 20th century.

Commonwealth Dairy receives Vermont workforce development grants

Commonwealth Dairy in Brattleboro has received $57,207 in Vermont Training Program (VTP) grants from the Agency of Commerce & Community Development’s (ACCD) Department of Economic Development to up-skill 147 of its employees. The workforce development grants will support production skills training for current workers, increasing the capacity of Commonwealth’s Brattleboro facility while maintaining quality production of the company’s high-quality Greek yogurt. The training will strengthen employees’ knowledge and ability, helping Commonwealth thrive in the highly-competitive Greek yogurt industry.

Halloween has become Millennials’ favorite holiday

Trends happen across a wide spectrum, from the culturally important to the frivolous. Fuse in Burlington did a survey in October of 2,000 Millennials is about Halloween – which counts as both frivolous and important to marketers. The National Retail Federation predicted an increase in spending for Halloween this year reaching a record-breaking $9.1 billion. Americans are going to spend more than ever and its Millennials who are leading the way, having made Halloween their favorite holiday.