Brad Peacock: Rhetoric does not equal leadership

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In case you haven't heard, Bennington County recently received another economic blow when the Energizer plant decided to close and move their operations to Wisconsin, leaving over 100 people soon to be unemployed. This comes on top of Southern Vermont College shutting its doors, resulting in another 100-plus people losing their jobs. This has not been a good year for many people and families in our county, and they should know that our elected officials are doing everything in their power to help remedy the steady decline in good paying jobs both here and throughout the state. Unfortunately, although Bennington is Vermont's third-largest town (and sixth-largest city), we receive very little positive attention from those at the top of our state government.

Upon learning the news of Energizer closing, I was extremely disappointed to hear our governor ridicule our state for what he sees as unfriendly business policies that create "unique burdens and barriers to growth." Someone should remind Governor Scott, who campaigned on the promise of leading our state towards a more prosperous economic future, that the buck stops with him. As we have seen over the past three years, the rhetoric does not meet the leadership.

Admittedly, the governor has little control over internal private business decisions, which sometimes result in our neighbors, friends and family members losing their jobs due to those businesses moving out of state. However, the governor has full control over the optics of his words, and in my opinion, it is not a useful policy for the governor to tell existing and future businesses that Vermont is unfriendly to businesses. What message does that send to future employers, and what message does that send to the workers who dedicate their lives every day to businesses all across our state? This rhetoric is not a recipe for economic growth.

I am proud of our Vermont businesses and their employees. We have one of the most talented and dedicated workforces in the country, people who have extraordinary pride in our state and the communities in which they live and serve. We need to be celebrating our successes and ensuring that the businesses we still have are feeling supported and are encouraged to thrive here.

Part of creating economic growth and encouraging sustainable development includes rolling up our shirt sleeves and revisiting outdated, cumbersome and redundant laws like Act 250, Vermont's land use and development act, which was passed nearly 50 years ago. I believe that people from every political party are willing to concede that it is time to reconsider parts of this law and make the permitting and performance standard process more efficient. These revisions in no way should be synonymous with selling out our landscape and environment, two things that are essential to our Vermont identity. Rather, we must encourage our legislators to continue their work into taking a commonsense approach to updating a law for 21st century solutions. Solutions that don't sell out future generations, but create the economic growth needed for a stronger, more resilient Vermont economy.

Vermont cannot afford two more years of a governor who leads from behind, placing blame at anyone's feet but his own. A governor who seemingly has no vision for what our future economy could look like and whose only solution I have seen is to pay people up to $10,000 to move here so they can telecommute. What if we had a leader who invested that money into our current residents so they are encouraged, hopeful, and have the training and skills needed to stay and make a life here? We need a governor who understands it is their job to create a favorable business culture, and to reassure all Vermonters they are doing everything in their power to keep our jobs safe. We need someone willing to take responsibility, dig in, and help to find the solutions to what is not working, who has a vision for our future, and leads by example.

Bennington deserves this kind of leadership, as does the entirety of our amazing state.

Brad Peacock is a farmer, former U.S. Senate candidate and vice chair of the Bennington County Democrats. He lives in Shaftsbury.

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