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It was heartening to see that a bill to create the Working Lands Enterprise investment, promotion, coordination and assistance initiative already has significant support in the Vermont Legislature

The legislation, developed over the past year by the Vermont Working Landscape Partnership, an offshoot of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, was formally unveiled in Montpelier this week during a news conference. That event was attended by some key lawmakers who will see the bill this session.

Essentially, the bill would create an enterprise fund, proposed at $3 million for the first year, although the figure would be expected to grow to about $15 million annually. The funds would be used to assist fledgling agriculture and forest products businesses with the aims of boosting the Vermont economy, creating jobs and preserving the land for those uses.

The bill would create a 13-member Working Lands Enterprise Board that will provide financing for new or expanding businesses and regulatory assistance and close contact with the state agencies and departments that typically deal with agricultural or forest products companies.

There would also be economic, technical and administrative support for development projects that contribute to working landscape projects, and the board would leverage technical assistance and resources throughout state government.

There would be a promotional component as well, in the form of a marketing campaign to lure both customers for Vermont products and residents from other states who might want to start a farm-relate or forest products business but lack the capital or experience to accomplish that in their home states.

This is a great idea that is a perfect fit for Vermont. It could provide a real economic boost and help preserve working landscapes as something other than pretty views for second-home owners to enjoy from the back porch -- leading to more land lost to housing developments.

As the economy seems to be improving, this also is the perfect time to invest a modest amount to get a program with significant potential up and running.



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