February 03, 2009

Symposium Addresses Growing Local Economy

By: by Candace Page, Burlington Free Press


SOUTH BURLINGTON -- Successful economic development in the 21st century is built around high-quality universities in places where interest groups can put aside their differences to focus on making the right public and private investments, two national high-tech leaders said at a conference Monday. "We can bake more bread, or fight over the crumbs," Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group told a group of about 80 Vermont businesspeople. He ascribed his region's high-tech success in large part to the presence of government-supported, world-class universities and a strong community college system. The private sector provided the venture capital to get high-tech businesses off the ground, and the private sector has led efforts to solve public policy problems, he said. When the cost of housing became a barrier to finding high-tech employees, his business group worked with local governments and interest groups like the Sierra Club to drive the local approval of 200 housing developments, he said. "We were able to focus on the 95 percent of issues on which we agreed, instead of fighting over the 5 percent on which we disagreed," he said. Guardino's advice was echoed throughout the symposium, "Compete or Retreat, Surviving and Prospering in the Global Economy, " organized by Vermont Tiger. Vermont Tiger is a Web site and nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes economic growth and often criticizes Vermont state government policies as fiscally unsound or unfriendly to business. • Vermont Tiger "We believe that growing the economic pie is better than re-slicing a shrinking pie," Vermont Tiger Chairman Jack Harding said as he opened the conference. "Vermont's political infrastructure only worries about the second." Among the other speakers was Alain Kaloyeros, CEO of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York at Albany. He described how New York early in this century adopted an economic model that took its higher education institutions as the "enabling driver for high-tech competitiveness." The state and high-tech companies, including IBM, invested half-a-billion dollars in building Kaloyeros' state-of-the-art college, now described as the leading institution of its kind in the world. The result: 2,200 highly skilled jobs on the campus, and a cluster of job-creating businesses doing research and development work there. Afterward, John O'Kane, government affairs director at IBM-Burlington, said New York's experience has lessons for Vermont -- even if this state is too small to invest at New York's level. "The message is, you had the legislature, the university and the governor who undertook a significant, long-term commitment of money to push the boundaries. They had the idea to be a world leader -- it's more than a speech. It's a sustained commitment with everything behind it," he said.