Infrequently Asked Questions

by Jack Tenney

IAQ: How many cylinders should a state’s economic engine have?

A: Natural resources, manufactured exports, higher education resources, online retailing, and hospitality. Each of those sectors attracts out-of-state revenue.

Supporting those activities is a strong cohort of construction companies and skills capable of building and maintaining the infrastructure.

Underpinning all are private and public services.

Vermont is in great shape to hit on all cylinders: Mined stone, Vermont branded agriculture, and world-class manufacturing companies export to the world. University of Vermont, the State College system, and private higher ed attract foreign and out-of-state students.

Natural resources: Vermont’s number one natural resource is its allure to those from away to come and enjoy our seasons. Maybe not mud season, but the other four are unique and highly valued.

Exports: You can’t export natural beauty but it brings in a lot of out-of-state revenue. Ski areas and higher education are two examples that bring in a lot of fuel for our economic engine. The state’s revenue from sales taxes and rooms and meals taxes is what it is because visitor dollars account for a significant share.

Manufacturing exports are what one normally thinks of as generators of state trade surpluses. Thank you, IBM, BioTek, Cabot, Ben, Jerry, Husky, and all the great business people who make things here that sell there. Manufacturing and hospitality jobs keep retail registers ringing along with all the service-employee and government payrolls.

IAQ: What’s with the name MILL PUBLISHING?

A: I was told by my first business attorney to avoid using my name in a corporate name. His reasoning was that if I ever wanted to sell the company, I wouldn’t be selling my name. This is the third corporation I have had a hand in naming. Neither of the other two was immortal. This one was named after the Champlain Mill in Winooski where I considered opening an office. Ended up on Bank Street in the old Vermont Fed building then owned by Vermont National.

IAQ: What do you think of your competition?

A: I like them all. They are an affirmation of the value of regional publications. I would never want to be the only business serving a market. Even the Red Sox and Patriots are enhanced by the Yankees and the Giants. Competitors need each other.

I am very impressed by Seven Days. And Vermont Business Magazine, Vermont Magazine, Vermont Woman — all present advertising opportunities to the market Business People calls on.

IAQ: Who thinks up the headlines for the profiles?

A: Headlines think themselves up, like spontaneous composition, from the brain of our managing editor, who grew up in a family of punsters. They go through a groan test as part of the proofing process.

IAQ: After 30 years, are there story subjects left to be interviewed?

A: Hardly a problem. When we started publishing, BioTek, JogBra, Resolution, Paul Kaza, Creative Labels had space at the Chace Mill. They have all moved, morphed, merged, and grown. There’s a whole building full of new stories there now. And new businesses and business people arrive every month.

IAQ: What’s the difference?

A: Over the past 30 years, I have sat in on many conversations where the main premise seemed to be, “New Hampshire doesn’t have a sales tax or a personal income tax. Vermont must be the worst managed state in the union.”

Probably not — actually in many ways pretty conservative fiscally. To get some sort of nonemotional start on an analysis of the differences between Vermont and its neighbor, I propose looking at two other states, quite similar in size. One has a personal income tax, the other, not. Their populations are about equal, they have the same number of electoral votes, but one is reported to collect twice the tax revenue as the other.

The two states each support three NFL franchises, MLB teams, and NBA teams. These are big states — really big states — New York and Florida, of course. Florida residents pay no personal income tax while New Yorkers pay more personal income tax than Florida collects in all state taxes ($37.8 billion to $33.0 billion!). Wow!

Here’s a kicker: Florida lives on visitors. The state of Florida is a “partner” of every rental property leased for less than six months, and the state picks up a junior gratuity on every meal or bar tab. Florida’s revenue from sales and so-called “select” sales taxes divided by its population yields a number of $1,412 per capita versus Vermont’s per capita on those taxes of $1,547.

I think it may be fair to say that Vermont enjoys a greater benefit from visitors than Florida on a per capita basis.

By the way, New Hampshire does tax dividends and interest and has those select sales taxes (rooms and meals, etc.), which account for $663 per capita.

Conclusion: Comparing tax revenues between states can be difficult. •