It's been another one of those speedy calendar moments this summer, or more accurately, the 30th anniversary of what some call the midlife crisis of 1989.
A nasty (but nothing like 2008-09) recession was starting to make things challenging for a youngish family. The family’s independent contractor dad had enjoyed a nice seven-year run as a lone ranger professional. Job experience leading to that point had been along traditional communications paths, along with exposure to an exploding sports marketing niche.
Yet, to leverage success in the field moving ahead was going to require dropping the independent life and getting a job at one of the newly established national agencies that controlled the business while cutting each other’s throats.
That summer prompted soul-searching. At times, I was meeting with people on the network cycle, mostly in Manhattan. I was unaware they were actually interviewing me. The hints of opportunity were promising next steps, but it was quite clear early in the game that the youngish family didn’t particularly want to leave Greater Boston and definitely not leave New England.
We had not been strangers to Vermont during a two-decade absence. Every holiday from Memorial Day to November likely found us 3 miles up Bull Run Road in Roxbury, enjoying the silence, providing Vermont indoctrination for the kids, and sharing life experience and creating memories with their grandparents.
We started thinking, “What about Vermont, and how?” Looking at the looming 1990s, research implied that there was opportunity in northern New England, if for nothing more than “The Getaway.” Even then you could already see and envision exponentially more people living in a giant area from Boston through New York, Philly and Washington.
The general blueprint started taking shape. Won’t a good number of those people “getting away” for a summer or winter weekend be inclined to make it permanent? Tom Watson’s IBM was a good starting reference, assumed to be in Vermont because he fell in love with Stowe. There are plenty of places in the state with easy business links to Boston, New York and Montreal to attract the right manufacturer, service provider or start-ups appropriate to the surrounding community.
Expanding that thought, marketing and advising those who now live in the Bos-Wash neighborhood, and want to get away for good, might have growing potential, as well as transferring acquired skill sets to a new business application.
I started investigating risks and benefits in this profession, yet an unexpected chat framed the picture. It was another expatriate Vermonter, a UVM friend who had leveraged his bachelor’s degree and Chicago MBA into a successful corporate career, a good part of it in the sports world. He had returned to Vermont, got established in the business brokerage community, and now was moving on by purchasing his own business in the state.
By November the youngish family had a plan. I would test myself in the business brokerage area as an independent contractor and would bring a trimmed-down sports marketing business with me. From day one, I had targeted the Stowe locale as a good fit with PromoSport, my 8-year old firm.
More important was an exceptional school system, allowing two very nervous children to enroll in a new place in a year of emotional change for all students — one entering ninth grade, high school; the other in seventh grade, junior high school.
It was a challenge.
This meant a virtual separation of professional connections made over 20 years, starting from scratch to leverage the new endeavor. Yet four years later, NewEnglandNorth had been established and teamed with two similar brokers in New Hampshire and Maine. PromoSport continued as “financial insurance” until 2001, when the shock inflicted by 9/11 forced a philosophical awareness that sports weren’t that important anymore.
So now, the 30-year review: Was it the right choice? Was the analysis correct?
There is no regret for even one minute of the path started in 1989. A (hypothetical) person moving into our vacated Bedford home and remaining there would have tallied a three-decade, 30-mile (round trip) weekday commute to Boston. That is over 250,000 rush-hour miles (or 10 laps around the Earth’s equator) we have not endured. A slam-dunk quality-of-life triumph for Vermont.
Bos-Wash fulfilled its part of the analysis, a teeming mega metro bombshell with problems galore. This year Boston was declared the city with the worst traffic in America. There likely have been days when the British troops could have left the Boston barracks and marched to Concord Bridge in 1775 faster than the drive to Government Center.
However, I misread where Vermont might be in 2019, even with a conservative guess on a growing economic opportunity.
We have played “Field of Dreams” in reverse. We did not build economic opportunity and they did not come. We’re now around 626,000 population vs. 565,000 in 1989. A 1 percent gain (1989 assumption) would have added 5,650 persons per year. Using that number for 30 years, even with no compounding, you have 730,000 Vermonters and a much healthier economic future.
Vermont has to do more than talk in economic circles. Forget Chittenden County; they’ll be OK. Our tourism will be OK once our Legislature faces reality about where our bread is buttered and fully supports that niche, especially as we head into challenging, maybe treacherous, economic territory.
The rest will take time, time we really don’t have because we’ve wasted a lot of it. Vermont has to triple-down, decide what kinds of out-of-state businesses or start-ups — small ones with 75 to 150 employees — can make their mark on viable locations in the other 12 counties. What things thriving in northern Maine, New Hampshire, and even New York can be replicated in the Kingdom? Good heavens, there’s an interstate highway right through the heart of the area.
And that interstate also stretches along the Connecticut River all the way to Massachusetts. It’s virtually economic ghost towns on the river’s west bank. What can thrive in Bennington that’s a win-win with the Albany-Troy growth explosion? Rutland’s best roads reach toward the Northway, but who’s going and who’s coming?
Just chalk this up as a worrisome Green Mountain Labor Day message, one that even tops our concern for the Red Sox this September.
Dave Matthews lives in Stowe. His column appears monthly. Email letters to email@example.com.