Commentary

Betsy Bishop & Aly Richards: Vermont could lead in remote work

Editor's note: This commentary is by Betsy Bishop, of East Montpelier, who is the president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and Aly Richards, of Montpelier, the CEO of Let’s Grow Kids.

When we look years ahead, how do we picture Vermont? Where are our workplaces centered, where are our homes in relation to our workplaces, and how do we see working parents in our state thriving?

Vermont is in a pivotal moment. Amid the economic and emotional pain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is asking these questions and learning lessons about what community means, the necessity of innovation, and how to best live and work together.

It is starkly clear that our personal lives impact our work capacities. Vermont’s working parents are struggling to cobble together child care while fulfilling their professional responsibilities. And in many homes across Vermont, lack of adequate broadband connectivity is adding stress.

In this moment, with our attention on these issues, we have the unique opportunity to build our state into a work-from-home capital. But we are not in this moment alone.

For Vermont to lead on this issue, our government and business leaders must take swift, bold steps forward – steps that move us far ahead and quickly, as other states contemplate this same opportunity.

There are clear and urgent needs Vermont must meet to make leading remote work a reality:

Affordable access to high-quality child care for families who need it: A recently issued report by the U.S. Chamber showed that, of states examined, losses averaged $1 billion annually in economic activity due to breakdowns in child care. Even before the pandemic, three out of five of Vermont’s youngest children didn’t have access to child care they needed. Vermont emerged as a national leader with savvy investments in a stabilization program and restart grants to help child care programs safely operate during Covid-19. But there is more to do. Building a stronger, more equitable, and sustainable child care system is a vital component of restarting our economy and is essential to the future of Vermont. Doing so is also essential to maximizing our state’s workforce potential and attracting new families to live in our state.

Consistent broadband connectivity across the state: There is a connectivity shortfall impacting 70,000 Vermont households that do not have access to federally defined broadband. Covid-19 related restrictions and closures have demonstrated that broadband access is now essential for economic development. And with so many Vermonters working from home and students of all ages engaging in online learning, reliable broadband access is an immediate emergency need. Public investments in broadband should include public and private partnerships that maximize knowledge and capitalize on existing infrastructure, while planning for future technology landscapes.

Increased housing for low- and middle-income Vermonters: Vermont produced several thousand homes every year from the 1960s through the 1990s. By 2019, new residential building permits had dropped to 2,080. Aging housing stock, tight supply, and rising prices near employment centers have forced people to make difficult choices about where to live. We need to increase new or retrofitted housing units in Vermont while also focusing on creating more housing options for low- and middle-income Vermonters.

Vermonters want to be able to work remotely after the pandemic. That was a key takeaway from a University of Vermont survey conducted in June. To help our state reach its best potential, we must listen to Vermonters’ needs and connect the dots to make working from home a reality, while also taking steps to welcome future Vermonters and to support our working families already here.

Let’s seize this moment. We can make Vermont the work-from-home capital of the country by investing in three essential areas necessary to make remote work possible: child care, broadband connectivity, and housing.


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