LYNDON CENTER -- Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin spoke Friday during a day-long Northeast Kingdom Business and Education Summit hosted by Lyndon State College.
Shumlin told business, community and education leaders that there is unanimity in Vermont about putting people back to work, raising incomes and improving prosperity for Vermont which has been hit hard by the economic downturn.
Shumlin said hearing the strategies to strengthen education for young people, to help create a more skilled work force at Friday's summit was like being "in an echo chamber" with the team he is assembling for his new administration.
Shumlin said as governor he wants to partner with NEK leaders to help end the era in which the Kingdom is known for having higher unemployment and lower wages than other parts of Vermont.
Two years from now, he said, he's hoping that he will start to see the results of the ideas, efforts and programs taking shape in the NEK and throughout the state to create healthy economic change.
"We all know it's about business and education working together," Shumlin said.
When he was a boy, he had a hard time learning to read. And one very special teacher, time and again, took him to her log cabin and worked with him in Westminster by the wood stove in the winter until he had learned to read.
He said without that kind of effort he likely would not have gone onto school and done well in a career. What he said students everywhere need is that kind of teacher, that kind of belief in them.
Students who are helped young -- as young as pre-school -- will have stronger futures, help create hope for a stronger economy and cost the state less when they find success instead of failure that can add to social woes such as the heavily-burdened correction system, Shumlin said.
"How do we take more rural kids and ensure that they have the opportunities that I had?" Shumlin asked. "The work that you're doing in this room today is the reason I ran for governor."
He said by joining forces, education and business can put the state in a strong competitive position. He said manufacturing has a strong future in Vermont. He's convinced of it.
"The state is united on the simple focus that we have a job to do: to put Vermont back to work," said Shumlin. "When you get kicked in the teeth enough, you finally say enough, and the people of Vermont feel like they've been kicked in the teeth."
He urged people to join school boards, offer internships to students to learn job skills; to "go and fight for pre-kindergarten."
Shumlin said putting programs in communities for job training, life skills and substance abuse help are better and less expensive solutions than locking up non-violent offenders who have committed crimes such as bouncing checks or minor infractions, often to support substance abuse problems. They cost the state $52,000 a year, he said, and often return to jail within three years.
The morning began with a keynote address delivered by Jay Peak President and CEO Bill Stenger, who was enthusiastic about the possibility to revive the economy. Stenger said as he drove to the college Friday morning, he was struck by the beauty all around him.
"On mornings like this," he said, "the bell does go off again and you say to yourself, 'god am I lucky to be working and living in such a beautiful place.'"
However, for people struggling to pay their bills and take care of their families, life is not as enjoyable, he said.
"I have the great benefit of a loving family a great education, had a chance to go to a great university and because of that opportunity I've had the opportunity in life to garner a good career and sustain a good economic life. There are many in our community who are not that fortunate," Stenger said. "You all know too well that the poverty and the lack of education that exists in this rural and beautiful community is all too true. You can appreciate the environment and the beauty, but if you are hungry and you can't provide for a life for your kids and you can't pay your bills, that beauty passes you by."
Stenger spoke about what he called the TEAM economy. The T stands for travel and tourism, hugely important to Vermont and the NEK. E is for education, into which health care was also thrown, both important vibrant sectors of the economy. The A stands for agriculture, also critical to Vermont's fabric, he said, and the M for manufacturing which is important to the state's employment picture.
"It's the fabric and history and depth of our character," he said. "It is a fundamental part of Vermont and it is a core value ... the agricultural community of Vermont, what they produce, what they provide ... why people come here and it's not historical farms. They're real farms. They're working farms. They're not museums, but they are struggling with issues that we need to understand whether its pricing or access to capital to sustain them because if we lose our agricultural industry we've lost our soul. It's that important to the fabric of Vermont."
By day's end, the group planned to review priorities and action steps and to sign up for steps to implement the ideas, and to sign onto the NEK Charter for Success. The charter calls for work to increase the percent of college graduates in the NEK from 16 to 31 percent, the state average; to work to recover the more than 1,200 jobs lost through plant closures since 2000 by creating high paying jobs in the Kingdom; to increase the median income from 77 percent of the state average or $38,195 to $49,698, to increase business starts; to decrease the poverty rate from 12 to 10 percent, the state average; and to increase broadband coverage from 44 percent to 100 percent.