MONTPELIER, VT – Legislators gave final approval to the Working Lands Enterprise Investment bill (H.496) in the final days of the session, and sent the bill to the Governor’s desk. Governor Shumlin is expected to sign the bill on Tuesday in St. Albans.
The final version of the bill creates a Working Lands Enterprise Board, comprised of 15 members, three of which will be non-voting. The Board will oversee the Working Lands Enterprise Fund, which will have three focus areas of investment: (1) enterprise grants and loans to land-based and value-added businesses that are new or want to grow; (2) wrap-around services to working lands enterprise including technical assistance, business planning, financial packaging, and other services required by companies ready to transition to the next stage of growth; and (3) needed infrastructure for creative diversification projects, value-added manufacturing, processing, storage, distribution, and collaborative ventures. The Fund will be overseen by the Board.
The Appropriations bill allocated $1.175 million to the Working Lands Enterprise Fund, with $175,000 going toward 2 positions to support the work through the Agency of Agriculture.
The bill also adds a forestry focus and additional members to the existing Vermont Agricultural Development Board and renames the board as the Vermont Agricultural and Forest Products Development Board.
Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, celebrated the conference committee agreement by saying, “This bill raises a flag in Vermont for our natural resource economy and lets the nation know that agricultural and forest products entrepreneurs are welcome here. Vermont will be known as the ‘value-added’ state. This initiative is an economic development strategy that supports rural prosperity.”
A detailed summary and the final version of the bill and a PHOTO available for use is available here: http://vtrural.org/programs/working-lands/bill