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Economists Say Vermont Job Growth Slowed In 2013

The state’s economy continues to recover slowly but long term threats lie ahead.   

That was the message delivered at the Vermont Economic Outlook Conference in Burlington Friday.

The annual conference is hosted by the Vermont Economy Newsletter, which is edited and published by Vermont economists Art Woolf and Dick Heaps. 

They told attendees that Vermont will continue to experience slow growth in the coming year, although Woolf said in 2013 job growth actually tailed off compared to 2012. There were reversals in construction hiring and more modest gains than in 2012 in professional and business services and health care.

“There’s been a deceleration in the rate of job growth, or the magnitude.  In 2012 we added about 3,700 jobs. We think that last year the job growth is probably somewhere on the order of 2,200 and all that is in the private sector,” Woolf explained.

Woolf says retail is one area of the Vermont economy that has failed to add jobs since the recession.

Economist Dick Heaps said that may explain an unusual aspect of the job losses in Vermont.  He said women were particularly hard hit because they occupied many of the retail jobs lost.   

“Retailing has had a horrible time in Vermont," Heaps said. "Vermonters, I think, more than anybody else, love the internet, love catalog shopping and love shopping in New Hampshire. Women particularly have been hit in clothing stores and then miscellaneous retail which are jewelry stores, bookstores, gift shops, things like that.”

Heaps listed a group of companies that created 200 or more jobs in Vermont in 2013.  They include Green Mountain Coffee Roasters,, Jay Peak, Fletcher Allen Health Care and Walmart in St. Albans. 

Heaps said Vermont households earning $100,000 or more have seen the largest income growth.  Middle income earnings have been nearly flat, while lower income Vermonters have seen a decline in earnings.

The message of slow recovery was tempered by a healthy dose of concern about the longer term.

"Vermont's biggest problem is and will remain weak population growth," said Gus Faucher, vice president of PNC Financial Service Group.  "Any growth taking place is among retirees, not skilled, working age people.  Vermont needs to turn the situation around, otherwise it's looking at long-term stagnant economic growth."

David Coates, who served on the Commission on the Design and Funding of Retirement and Retiree Health Benefits Plans for State Employees and Teachers sounded an alarm about the financial health of state government. 

Coates said unfunded health care benefits for retirees are threatening existing pension plans, jeopardizing the state's credit rating and hobbling efforts to fund other programs. 

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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