We at VermontBiz are enjoying and celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. Think of everything that has happened in that time. Vermont Yankee has come, and gone. The state elected its first (and, so far, only) Democratic US Senator (Patrick Leahy) since the Civil War and its first woman governor ever (Madeleine Kunin). Civil unions and then same-sex marriage became law.
A couple nice fellows from Long Island started an ice cream scoop shop in an abandoned filling station in Burlington and eponymously named it Ben & Jerry’s Homemade.
Two snow sports innovators from southern Vermont changed the course of the winter Olympics by “looking around the corner” and essentially inventing freestyle skate skiing (Billy Koch) and snowboarding (Jake Carpenter), who named the company after his grandmother. We know it as Burton Snowboards.
Along with many other innovators and inventors, from groundbreaking medical software (IDX) and industry-leading Dealer.com to Vermont-style Double IPA and craft liquors, Vermont has become a leader in innovative business, society, sport, food and beverage. Did we coin the term farm-to-plate? Maybe.
Technology, energy, the weather, politics, corporate consolidation and the COVID-19 pandemic have reshaped our society.
We’ve asked several Vermonters to reflect on the last half century and offer their thoughts, briefly, on what they believe are the one or two most significant events that have shaped, or will shape, Vermont. It could have happened in the 1970s or yesterday. It doesn't necessarily have to be about business.
We are grateful to those who took time to respond.
President, Vermont Technical College
1) Vermont passing Act 250. Act 250 has had significant impact on Vermont’s environment and environmental protection. Some argue both positive and negative impacts. I feel positive. Act 250, coupled with Vermont’s comprehensive planning laws, amended many times, provide opportunities for clarity of where we would like to see development and where we would like to see conservation.
2) The growth of Vermont specialty food and beverage sectors, starting with “Market Vermont,” the “Vermont Seal of Quality,” “Vermont Makes It Special” and the many past and present efforts to grow Vermont’s specialty food and beverage markets. Coupled with “Vermont Farm to Plate,” these efforts have positively impacted the Vermont economy in so many ways. It has put us on the map for quality products and enhanced our working landscape. It has also changed the agricultural landscape to expand to far more diversity of farms, products and tourism options.
There are so many more big “events” that have changed Vermont; civil unions, bottle bill, banning billboards, tropical storm Irene. All big events, but in terms of long-term impact, I like these two. Some prior to 1970, many since.
Schumann Distinguished Scholar, Middlebury College
Clearly Act 250 (1970) has done more than anything else to preserve this state as a place worth living in; but others are better positioned to tell that story. Let me choose one other smaller example – in 1973 the law, passed five years earlier, that prohibited billboards along Vermont's roads went into effect. And since that time we've been able to wander our state without having someone trying to sell us something we don't need. Thank heaven for it!
James H Douglas
The past half century has been a time of noteworthy events and significant change: we mourned the loss of the first governor to die in office since right after the Civil War; we experienced the worst flood since the Coolidge administration; we are still enduring the deadliest pandemic in a century; and we suffered the greatest losses per capita of any state in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Through it all, Vermont has been deemed the healthiest state and the greenest state; we have the cleanest air in the Northeast. We are home to authors, artists, entrepreneurs and Olympic athletes; we are a community where people care about and help one another. And we have the finest business magazine on the planet!
President, Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation and Cynosure, Inc
Big challenge to select one or two things in in just a few sentences, so I will just go with one of the most significant events over the past 50 years:
Technology has been the most significant event/catalyst/influencer of dynamic and systemic change for every human being over the past 50 years.
Technology has totally transformed society and changed every aspect of our lives.
Computing, the internet, the ability to search for information, cell phones, mobile and smart devices, etc. Technology has essentially removed all physical and geographic barriers and has totally changed how we live our lives and interact with the world.
CEO, Main Street Landing
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of young people from around the country emigrated to Vermont. Many of us — known as hippies and baby boomers — were opposed to the war in Vietnam and concerned about the direction of our country. We rebelled against authority and our parents' lifestyles, attitudes, and politics, and encouraged our generation to "tune in, turn on, and drop out." We cared about equal rights, racial justice, women's reproductive freedoms, the environment, income inequality, organic food, and desired a simpler life that was not predicated on how much we made, where we went to school, or what car we drove. Many of us settled in the hillsides of the Green Mountain State and bought inexpensive land and built our own homes with FHA loans. We decided our own destiny and became farmers, masons, builders, civic-minded citizens, activists, nonprofit leaders, and entrepreneurs. Musicians, artists, writers, and painters found their true calling, and many of us gathered together in communes where the workings of daily life were shared with others in a cooperative and collaborative way. Most of us became caring citizens who over the years pioneered progressive beliefs that focused on social issues, compassion, open-mindedness, tolerance, and fairness. We have grown old here in Vermont, and our legacy lives on in our work, in our businesses, in our community and civic service, and in our children and grandchildren who embrace this free-spirited life that Vermont provides her people.
Vice President, Ethan Allen Institute
December 1984: Ralph Wright (D - South Boston) won the Democratic caucus nomination for speaker of the House over well-liked moderate John Zampieri, found six Republican votes, and was narrowly elected speaker in 1985. In the same year, the Senate majority became Democratic and elected liberal Peter Welch as president pro tem. Liberal Democrat Madeleine Kunin became governor. At last, Democrats — aggressive liberal Democrats — had a free hand to set Vermont’s future agenda. Kunin’s appointment of her chief political officer John Dooley to the Supreme Court in 1988 pushed the court sharply to the left. Since then, Republicans have never controlled both Houses of the Legislature.
December: 1996 Supreme Court, in 51 days, in an unsigned opinion believed by many to be the handiwork of Justice John Dooley, surprisingly found that the “common benefits” clause of the 1777 Constitution required substantially equal revenues for school districts, enacted as Act 60 of 1997. Justice Dooley, in 1988, had declared his willingness, in dealing with constitutional issues, "to wander into Never Never Land and produce a good result that will stand the test of time." Without the court’s pressure, it is likely that Act 60 would not have been passed.
March 1981. Itinerant perennial candidate Socialist Bernie Sanders defeated Burlington’s conservative Democrat incumbent Mayor Gordon Paquette by 14 votes to establish himself as the organizer and credible leader of the state’s progressive movement, even challenging incumbent liberal Democrat Governor Madeleine Kunin in the 1986 election.
Former Presidentof the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and first VermontBiz columnist
To me, the most game-changing event over the past 50 years is the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. It was a wake-up call for Americans in so many ways .On the bright side, it brought us very much together for the first time since WW II. Unfortunately, unity didn't last long.
My second event is the war in Vietnam. Violent protests and deep divisions gave birth to the " Question Authority" and the "Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll" culture that still influences our behavior today.
President Richard Nixon Meets Chinese Chairman Mao in Beijing. The world was stunned when, in February of 1972, President Nixon traveled to Beijing, China at the invitation of Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong. Despite the sharp differences between our countries, several meetings between the two leaders led to opening relations between the US and China at many levels. How the meetings were secretly planned is a fascinating story. Today's top leaders might take a cue from Nixon and Mao.
Former National Life Vice President, AP Bureau Chief, VBM columnist, Vermont This Week host
Today, Vermont is the most Democratic state in the nation, yet that is a relatively new status that is perhaps the most significant change of the past 50 years. For a century — from the 1850s to the 1950s — Vermont was the most Republican state in the nation. And while we mark Democrat Phil Hoff’s 1962 election as governor as a critical milestone in the transition, it took another 30 years for Democratic dominance to take hold. It was not until 1974 that the state elected a Democrat to the US Senate; it took another decade for Democrats to win a majority in the state House and another decade after that — in the election of 1996 — for Democrats to win control of the state Senate. The Democratic rise in power reflects the changing composition of the state as the population — and thus, political power —moved from small farm towns to growing urban areas.
Founder and Executive Director at the Center on Rural Innovation
In the Upper Valley, two things happened during the ‘90s that fundamentally shifted the economic power dynamics: The building of DHMC with intentional research and wet lab space for commercialization during the same period that Cone Blanchard, Fellows and Jones, and Lamson closed their doors. The result was a massive shift of economic gravity from Windsor, Springfield and Bellows Falls to Lebanon/Hartford.
I would also say the IDX and Dealer.com exits taking place around the same time IBM departed the state, shifting the type of innovation dominance from multinational manufacturing to Vermont-grown entrepreneurs who have gone on to invest in the next generation of startups, fueling things like VCET and Hula. In the same vein, the growth of OnLogic, a global technology firm founded by a woman who grew up in a blue collar family in Barre, is a sign of where our future could be once we stop focusing so much on trying to convince multinational companies to set up a small piece of their operation in our state.
We might also talk about the 1994 legislation that allowed higher alcohol beer, thereby legalizing the brewing of IPAs in Vermont.
In my view, the biggest event in the last 50 years was the passage of civil unions. The legislation put Vermont on the map as a standard-bearer for civil rights, sent us through a rugged, cathartic convulsion of backlash against what was perceived as a rapid sequence of left-leaning changes, and propelled Howard Dean onto the national stage as a legitimate candidate for president (despite not being the strongest advocate of civil unions at the time). Dean's success then laid the groundwork for Sanders being taken seriously, despite Dean's actively campaigning against him. Combined with Leahy's seniority, Vermont has played an outsized role in national politics during that entire period.
Tropical Storm Irene was certainly a massive event in our state that brought out the best in Vermonters in a rapid response.
Executive Director, Windham Regional Commission
The opening, and the closure, of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station (1972-2014) are bookends to one of the largest and most polarizing industrial development projects in Vermont history. If we let it, the closure could serve as a point of reflection on the value of objective impact assessment relative to sweeping hyperbole in policy deliberations.
Thomas S. Leavitt
President & CEO, Northfield Savings Bank
As a baby boomer who grew up in Vermont in the 1960s and 1970s, I was part of a big graduating class at Burlington High School. Our generation was the first to participate as youth in Green Up Day. As we came of age, we better understood the implications of the groundbreaking land use and development law Governor Deane C Davis ushered in. Act 250 has impacted the entire 50 years of VermontBiz’s existence. The environment of the Green Mountain State is uniquely protected, while also providing for sensible growth and development. The next 50 years will be equally consequential. Act 250 should be modernized to reflect the opportunity Vermont has to attract needed vitality among our population while preserving the best elements that help manage the demands on our precious natural resources and landscape.
Executive Director, Stowe Area Association
1) Tropical Storm Irene caused significant flooding across the state. However, Vermont's response and recovery from the state and local governments to non-profit organizations, to communities and individuals, was amazing.
2) We've all had to make significant shifts in our lives due to the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic. The hospitality community has suffered through the most disruptive and economically impactful time that any of us have ever experienced. However, as we look towards the future, I am hopeful that the opportunities for Stowe and Vermont's tourism industries will continue to rebound.
Vermont Business Roundtable
Fifty years is a pretty incredible stretch of history; it’s also longer than I’ve been alive, so I may have some recency bias. The end of the Vietnam War, fall of apartheid, spaceship Challenger explosion, Tiananmen Square, dismantling of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the public murder of George Floyd — all of these events changed our collective understanding of “before and after.” On a more local level, I also think about Tropical Storm Irene, implementation of Act 250, Marriage Equality Act, and, of course, the ongoing pandemic. When considering my relationship to all of these events (and how we’ll think about the next 50 years), I think about the impact and effects of the accelerated pace and decentralization of information, the economy, and communication through internet-based technology.
Curtiss Reed Jr.
Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity (a division of the CRJ Consulting Group, L3C)
The creation of the Vermont African American Heritage Trail in 2013 counts among the most significant events over the last 50 years in Vermont. It marked the emergence of a consciousness within state government and our business community that consumers of color beyond our borders matter to Vermont’s economic growth and prosperity. The trail signals to these out-of-vote consumers that Vermont is a desirable destination for all.
State Director, Vermont Small Business Development Center
In 1992, the Vermont Small Business Development Center was founded. As VtSBDC celebrates its 30th anniversary year, we are reflecting on our impact on Vermont’s small businesses and statewide economy. This milestone provides an opportunity to express our gratitude to our community partners, our financial stakeholders, and our team of dedicated advisors who work with our clients every day. Most of all, we are looking ahead to the future to continue to build relationships, to expand our reach in all of Vermont’s communities, and to add resources that will help our clients and partners today and tomorrow.
Also notable: Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 that devastated portions of Vermont’s roads and bridges and affected many of our downtowns and small businesses. For small businesses, the aftermath was a difficult challenge with property and records destroyed, and many having to close or start over. VtSBDC was able to help by providing small-business owners with a comprehensive Disaster Recovery Guide, which is still being used today during times of crisis.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, VtSBDC’s experience with Irene allowed the team to mobilize quickly with a COVID Recovery Roadmap and “triage” guidance to help Vermont’s small businesses navigate the complex grant and loan process as well as the pandemic’s impact on customers and staff.
On a more positive note: In 2009 VtSBDC and partner organizations launched the annual Vermont Student Entrepreneurship Day event to kick off Entrepreneurship Week. Since its inception, the event has grown to attract more than 250 Vermont educators, government officials, business advisors, business leaders, and students to bring innovative and forward-thinking Vermonters together to celebrate young entrepreneurs who are the future of Vermont.
Executive Director, Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce
I think even though it is recent, I can't imagine not recognizing the COVID relief funding coming into Vermont for a historic funding of infrastructure, businesses, housing, childcare, internet, and Vermont’s future. It has true potential to change Vermont forever in a good way.
To that, I'll add the story of Jake Burton Carpenter of snowboard fame. As our local paper wrote around his death in 2019, "The local connection to Carpenter and Burton snowboards runs deep with pride that this is where Burton was born. The company may have found its fortune in Burlington and its fame in the halfpipe in Nagano, Japan, but it found its soul in Londonderry and Manchester in Vermont's Green Mountains."
CEO, Vermont Economic Development Authority
When we look back 50 years from now, the COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly be among the top events. The pandemic has impacted everyone. In Vermont it brought acute attention to weaknesses in our telecommunications infrastructure that, in turn, severely challenged our education and health systems. Tropical Storm Irene similarly shone a spotlight on the weaknesses of Vermont’s road and bridge infrastructure. The root causes of these events, one weather and the other a highly transmissible contagion, were not controllable. But Vermont’s responses to these events have the potential to create long-term positive change. Strengthening our infrastructure — from roads and bridges to telecommunications — will in turn strengthen our health and education delivery options and reliability for everyone, but especially for the disadvantaged populations and geographic locations.