New development proposals for the Northeast Kingdom are huge in scale, promising major economic gains for a region that historically has lagged behind the rest of the state
Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, is the force behind a slate of projects expected to bring $500 million in new investment to Newport and Burke. That is a massive infusion of money. Much of it will come from foreign investors taking advantage of the federal EB-5 program, which awards U.S. visas to people making investments in the United States.
Stenger has already done much to breathe life into the region through his development of Jay Peak, which draws visitors, not just from Vermont and the Northeastern United States, but, importantly from Canada. Montreal is a short car ride away, and poutine is a popular menu item at Jay. Now he has helped attract new employers whom he expects will bring as many as 10,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, to the region.
Projects proposed last week include:
A South Korean biotech company called AnC Bio that plans to invest $104 million in a manufacturing plant in Newport, with 500 employees and hundreds of other employees in spin-off enterprises.
A German window manufacturer, Menck Window Systems, that plans to invest $20 million in a plant in Newport with 140 workers.
A hotel and conference center in downtown Newport, proposed by Burlington developer Antonio Pomerleau. This would be a $100 million investment.
An expanded runway and a new hangar, warehouse and free-trade zone at the region’s airport in Coventry.
New snowmaking and four new lodges at Burke Mountain ski area, which is partly owned by Stenger, plus a new hotel and facilities at Jay Peak.
Programs like the EB-5 program have worked for Canada and Australia, Stenger said, and Sen. Patrick Leahy was instrumental in ensuring the U.S. program was reauthorized, allowing for the new developments in the Northeast Kingdom. But the question immediately arises whether visas should be put up for sale to people with money to invest in the United States. It is a question of fairness.
The answer is to look to the immigration policies relating to would-be immigrants who lack big money. The United States benefits when foreign parties see opportunities for investment in the United States, and if Korean or German business people are willing to foster new enterprise in Newport, it makes sense to allow them into the country. But the same goes for workers at farms, factories and construction sites throughout the country. Workers are as essential as investors, and in many places immigrant labor fills in where local workers are unavailable. Making our immigration laws fair means allowing in workers and investors alike.
Meanwhile, the development of Newport promises to reshape a region and provide new life for a city in a magnificent setting that for many Vermonters is a distant and seldom-visited place. Newport could become a thriving regional center, part of the greater Montreal area, an international destination. The spin-off jobs created by the new developments could open new doors for thousands of local residents.
The Northeast Kingdom has long suffered the highest unemployment rates in the state, but Rutland and Bennington counties, which are not connected to the state’s principal transportation routes, have also struggled to keep up. Residents there may be wondering how they might draw investments like those proposed for the Northeast Kingdom.
In fact, the attention that Green Mountain Power is giving to Rutland since GMP acquired Central Vermont Public Service promises to yield significant gains for the region. GMP’s plans to make Rutland the solar capital of the Northeast do not approach in scale the new projects in the Northeast Kingdom, but they have already made a difference in downtown Rutland and could have a snowball effect for new employment.
Another important development that would benefit both Rutland and Bennington counties would be the improvement of passenger rail service connecting Rutland and Bennington to points north and south.
Major developments such as those Stenger has proposed for the Northeast Kingdom represent change, which can make people nervous. Sen. Vincent Illuzzi has already expressed a cautionary note, saying the projects were “a touch scary” and could “change the face” of the region.
Our development review laws are in place to ensure that development meet environmental standards, and the new projects merit close scrutiny. But taken together they represent a major step forward for the entire state of Vermont.