THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER: The Vermont brand has been tarnished
In the May 21, 2003 O'Neal Strategy Group's Final Report, on The Vermont Brand, they noted seven values of a strong brand. The last one being, "Even some states have strong enough identities to be brands. And Vermont is one of those states."
Made in Vermont has come to mean something to millions -- throughout America and the world. Quality, purity, lasting and integrity are only a few of the adjectives that come to mind in defining what the Vermont Brand represents.
The Vermont Brand is the envy of many states and companies. It takes a long time to establish a brand and once established it must be protected. It is no small wonder that the Vermont Attorney General's office vigorously prosecutes those individuals and companies who attempt to counterfeit The Vermont Brand.
Vermonters have an emotional attachment to The Vermont Brand and don't take lightly to anyone who might misuse it.
Unfortunately, The Vermont Brand has come under attack and has incurred serious damage -- it has been tarnished from the reporting in the national media of the heroin epidemic that has overcome many of the state's towns and villages.
Several recent articles appeared in the New York Times depicting the illegal drug problems in two of Vermont's largest towns -- Rutland and Bennington. On Feb. 28, the Times headlined, "A Call to Arms on a Vermont Epidemic." Katherine Q. Seelye wrote a lengthy piece beginning with:
"Block by block, this city (Rutland) in central Vermont has been fighting a heroin epidemic so entrenched that it has confounded all efforts to combat it."
Seelye must have been requested by her editor to stay in Vermont and gather and report additional information on how extensive the Vermont drug crisis actually was. Several days later, on March 5, the Times published her second article, "Heroin Scourge Overtakes a Quaint Vermont Town." The latest piece noted the following about Bennington:
"Stephanie Predel, a stick-thin 23-year old-freshly out of jail, said she was off heroin. But she knows precisely where she could get more drugs if she ever wanted them -- at the support meetings for addicts."
But let's not fault Ms. Seelye for nationalizing Vermont's drug problem and what it has done to The Vermont Brand -- there have been other national disclosures.
Each year, the governors of the 50 states report on the condition of her/his state in their State of the State address. In January, Gov. Peter Shumlin gave his address and it was exceptional. He devoted almost the entire 35 minutes to the Vermont drug crises. The content, length and exclusivity were so unusual the address was noted the following day on the front page of the Times as well as by the national TV and social media.
When R. Gil Kerlikowske, the National Drug Czar, came to Vermont from Washington, D.C., as he did several weeks ago, national attention was focused on Vermont, its troubles and what we are doing about them.
On March 17, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy convened a meeting of the U.S. Senate's Judiciary Committee in Rutland. The Vermont drug crisis and how we are dealing with it were the main topics. Once again Vermont and its drug crisis appeared in the national press.
The gathering was not the committee's first visit to Vermont investigating the state's drug problem. In December 2008, the committee met in Rutland, St. Albans and Barre for a similar purpose.
Five years ago, at the St. Albans meeting, the media noted what Sen. Leahy had said to his audience: "In the great tradition of this state, Vermonters come together in times of hardship, and I am proud to see all of you here today, ready and willing to work together on this problem."
Sen. Leahy's words must not have been heard -- the drug problem just got worse and so has its impact on The Vermont brand.
With this type of negative exposure, how can one deny that The Vermont Brand has not been tarnished?
Use any description you wish, damage, stained or tarnished, when assessing what the Vermont drug crises has done to the Vermont brand -- no matter, the brand can be restored.
The restoration process will occur once this urgency has the full attention, of the administration, legislature, judiciary, law enforcement, health and human service organizations and the public. Partial attention had already been put forward, as with the Vermont Senate's S.295, but hardly enough.
The drug crisis in Vermont is, in effect, Tropical Storm Irene magnified to the 10th power. And just how the state rallied to enact the recovery from the August 2011 storm, similar actions, only magnified, will be required in dealing with the current crisis.
We have had a drug problem in Vermont for too long, and too many of us have ignored it or denied its very existence. We have been physically, emotionally, financially and socially damaged and so has our image. So why not take the offensive and remove once and for all the stain that has been placed on our state? Only by being fully engaged will we be in a position to address the scourge that has impacted thousands of Vermonters now held captive to drug addiction.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.
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