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Nadworny: The Vermont Conundrum

I’ve attended a number of events recently dealing with Vermont business or entrepreneurship or growth. Governor Scott, like most governors before him, sees economic development as his critical issue. But time and again, we seem to have trouble moving the needle forward in a meaningful way. So I’ve been thinking about what our unique differentiator is when it comes to business, and life, here in Vermont.

The first thing that comes to mind is: Access. We’re a small state and one of the advantages of our size is that it’s absurdly easy to connect with lots of different people. And that ease continues right on up the hierarchy, to some of the most powerful people in the state.

I live in Burlington. That means that every once in a while I’ll run into our junior U.S. Senator in the local grocery. It means that occasionally I’ll bump into one of our former governors on the street and stop for a chat. A friend likes to tell the story of how, a few years back, one of the founders of ran into the then mayor of Burlington at an art exhibit, and told him about the help his company needed to grow. The rest is history.

My point is that here - unlike most places in the U.S. and the world - you don’t need to be rich or powerful yourself to get access. In fact, I think Access just might be Vermont’s superpower.

But, we’re still a small place, and while it’s easy to connect with people in general, professionally, we tend to group ourselves into small and isolated pods. And that can be a problem. In a large city, even a pod of techs or investors can be a lot of people; here it’s usually just a handful. And when it comes to growth and opportunity, having small pods is a risk.

So if we don’t want to be having this same conversation when the next governor is inaugurated, we need to spend more time intentionally finding ways to bring more disparate groups together in creative collisions to generate new combinations.

After all, it was Jobs and Wozniak, Proctor and Gamble – to name just two examples of successfully innovative odd couples.

And Ben’s Ice Cream just wouldn’t be the same without Jerry.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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