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Chris Brooks: Support Working Lands Enterprise Fund


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Editor’s note: This commentary is by Chris Brooks, who is the CEO and president of Vermont Wood Pellet Co. He is the product of five generations of timber and forest industry expertise, with an added helping of sales, marketing, and consulting experience. Together with his wife Katie, he founded the Vermont Wood Pellet Co. with a vision of helping people “heat local.”

We often hear politicians, economists and diner customers talking about “economic development” and what needs to happen to create jobs. Rarely do any of the ideas put forth results in measurable outcomes in the form of jobs that pay a living wage and can’t be sent to other countries.

The Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative is a rare exception. Developed right here in Vermont by people who value our working landscape and want to keep it productive and healthy, this initiative has produced remarkable results in a very short amount of time.

Vermont Wood Pellet Co. was a recipient of a Working Lands Enterprise Fund grant, and that grant not only resulted in significantly increased production and two new living wage jobs, it had an additional benefit of helping us decide to grow our company right here in Vermont.

Vermont Wood Pellet Co. is a small wood refinery in the heart of Vermont’s Green Mountains. We employ more than 20 people at our plant in North Clarendon, and work with more than 50 local loggers and truckers to bring in wood.

As our business has been growing, we have been courted by New York, New Hampshire and Maine to bring our business to these states. We were offered many incentives by these states, who are just as hungry as Vermont for good jobs.

In 2014, I participated in the Working Lands Summit, which was an outgrowth of the work done to create the Working Lands Enterprise Fund and a celebration of the early grantees. At that summit, I met my business partner Tabitha Bowling with Root 8 Ventures, and began making the decision to grow Vermont Wood Pellet Co. in Vermont, rather than in another state.

We are close to opening a second mill in the Northeast Kingdom. Even though Vermont did not offer the same incentives as the other states that wanted our business to move there, Vermont did offer us the Working Lands Enterprise grant, which will help us leverage other financing and shows that the state both believes in our business and is willing to invest directly in it. Vermont also offers us a community that values the working landscape highly and values businesses like ours that help to keep the forests healthy. We also have a community of entrepreneurs who are innovating in a myriad of ways to keep our working landscape strong.

The relatively small investments that Vermont is making in the form of the Working Lands Enterprise Fund grants are offering a return that can both be measured (jobs) and is beyond measure (a healthy landscape and a culture that values it). I hope our policymakers will recognize this value and will invest $1 million for fiscal year 2017 in the Working Lands Enterprise Fund.