MONTPELIER — The four candidates for governor made their cases Wednesday that each of them would be the best person to support the manufacturing industry in Vermont.
Republican candidates Bruce Lisman and Phil Scott — and Democrats Matt Dunne and Sue Minter — addressed taxes, education and refugees during the 95th annual meeting of the Associated Industries of Vermont, which represents the manufacturing industry in the state.
Lisman, who is running on his extensive business experience — having managed more than 2,300 employees in the financial, insurance and electric utility sectors — discussed the issues he sees holding back manufacturing and, ultimately, the state economy.
“I think we all see the same problems: a stagnant economy, declining school enrollment, rising property taxes, ballooning state budgets and a shrinking manufacturing base, among other challenges,” Lisman said. “This all fundamentally stems from Vermont’s lack of economic competitiveness.”
Lisman offered a number of proposals, such as streamlining the permit process for construction and and examining all legislation to determine the impact it would have on businesses and the cost of living for workers.
Lisman also proposed capping all state budget increases at 2 percent for the next two or three years.
Dunne discussed his business background, first as director of marketing for the Vermont-based high-tech company Logic Associates, which during his tenure grew to a company with more than 100 employees and $18 million in sales. For the past eight years, he was worked for Google to expand high-speed Internet access and recently launched a program to teach girls how to write computer code.
Dunne discussed Vermont’s enviable geographic position — located near Montreal, New York and Boston — and the need to improve the state’s transportation and communications infrastructure.
“We are seeing families leaving the state and companies that cannot expand because they can’t find qualified workers,” Dunne said. “We need an economy that works for Vermont and works for all Vermonters.”
Dunne proposed the expansion of technical education to better prepare Vermonters for today’s manufacturing industry. He also suggested creating a system where every business have a case manager to help that business navigate the many agencies and departments within state government.
Minter recalled growing up the daughter of an entrepreneurial candymaker, who owned and operated “Minter’s Candies.”
“It isn’t just my memories of those big vats of chocolates being mixed together, but the pressure my father faced to sustain a year-round work force and reinvest back into the business,” Minter said.
Minter, who managed more than 1,300 employees as secretary of the Agency of Transportation, reiterated Dunne’s point on the importance of technical education to prepare Vermont workers for the jobs that are available, and to break the cycle of poverty in Vermont.”
And in a direct nod to the recent national debate that has spilled over into Vermont, Minter discussed the positive impact immigrants and refugees will have on the state’s manufacturing sector.
Scott discussed his experience as a life-long entrepreneur, beginning at age 18 when started a lawn-mowing business in Lake Elmore. For more than 30 years, he has owned and operated Dubois Construction.
Since being elected lieutenant governor in 2010, Scott has worked 35 different jobs around the state as a part of his “Vermont Everyday Jobs” initiative. Scott recalled one day at GE Aviation in Rutland, where he learned how electricity costs affect the company’s bottom line.
“Listening and learning is the key to good leadership,” Scott said. “Those employers have to pay close attention to those costs. As state leaders, we must, too.”
Like Lisman, Scott proposed capping state budget increases. Under Scott’s plan, a budget increase could grow mo more than the economy had grown the previous year.
And like Minter, Scott discussed the importance of welcoming immigrants and refugees to the state.
“Vermont must continue to be welcoming to all people who look to America as the place of opportunity,” Scott said.