By Steve Zind, VPR - Vermont high tech companies say the state’s way of life is a powerful calling card for the kind of clean industry it hopes to attract, but they would like state officials to do more to market itself to attract new business.
The “Envisioning the Future of Vermont’s Digital Economy” summit sponsored by the Vermont Council on Rural Development in Montpelier covered a range of subjects, including why tech businesses come to Vermont and what could be done to attract more.
For Lisa Groeneveld , coming to Vermont was coming home after living in Europe. The Barre native co-founded Logic Supply in South Burlington which manufactures specialized computers and hardware.
Groeneveld says while the state couldn’t offer many financial incentives for her to relocate, she appreciated the way of life and she was impressed with the advice and assistance she received from people in state government.
“When you’re moving to any rural state, you need to look at the benefits of the lifestyle, sense of community,” she says. “How much access do you really have to the people who can help you? Vermont had to prove itself capable of supporting our business, and it really did.”
Burlington has attracted attention as a tech hub, but Groeneveld says the state should do more to market itself as a home for high tech businesses. Others at the conference echoed that sentiment.
Technology consultant John Rosenblum says there’s too much emphasis on farming, tourism and recreation.
He says there’s an impression that Vermont doesn’t have other industries – and the image actually hurts some tech businesses.
“By convincing people that Vermont is a mainly farming or skiing industry, where there’s hiking and nature, that’s all great except it makes people think that technology in Vermont doesn’t exist,” says Rosenblum. “For technology companies to go out and get funding outside of Vermont, that brand is counterproductive for us.”
Tech industry representatives also raised concerns about increasing need for broadband infrastructure as their businesses – and their customers - become more sophisticated.
Dmitri Garder of the marketing and data processing firm Global-Z in Bennington also pointed to the high poverty levels as an impediment to drawing more tech businesses to his area of the state.
Garder says companies have a harder time attracting prospective employees from elsewhere or finding good local talent. And he says businesses have a role in programs that help people out of poverty.
“Lifting up all sectors of the workforce into productive areas of society is in all businesses best interests and it trickles down into everything,” he says.
According to the Vermont Technology Alliance, wages at tech firms are substantially higher than the state average.
Alliance members reported an average 25 percent increase in employment between 2012 and 2014.