Most Vermonters would agree we live here among the Green Mountains so we can enjoy a quality of life as individuals, families, and businesses that affords us a decent standard of living, our independence, and the use of our natural resources now, and for generations to come.

Our deep rooted Yankee ingenuity, inventiveness, drive towards self-sufficiency, connections to the working landscape, and our commitment to community define who we are and how we do business, and are important values for us to bring into the future. But our ability to thrive as Vermonters is challenged by stagnant wages in jobs without career ladders, the high cost of housing and childcare, an aging workforce, the opioid epidemic, and a need for more young adults to enter the workforce.

How can we take advantage of our assets and historical strengths while also attracting and growing 21st century businesses to employ Vermonters and strengthen the vitality of our communities?

The answer is the same as it ever was—working together.

Uncivil political discourse is at an all-time high which has created animosity among colleagues, friends, families, and neighbors. But we all want the same outcome, right? To thrive here in Vermont.

The sustainability trigger

Words like sustainability have become political triggers and turn-off words, when really sustainability is very much aligned with our heritage as Vermonters. Out of necessity and community-oriented values, Vermonters have lived a sustainable lifestyle for generations—long before the word became so overused and lost much of its meaning. Simply defined, sustainability is the ability for people to benefit from economic production and have a decent quality of life indefinitely without overloading the capacity of the Earth’s ecosystem to a point where it cannot be renewed.

Vermont cannot survive as an island, there are too few of us and there is too much of what we need to live every day that is produced outside of our borders. But we can honor our values by relying more on our own resources, people, communities, businesses, and our regional neighbors as a way to guard against the broader forces that are outside our control.

Growing economic sectors that matter to Vermonters and those who love Vermont

A diverse mix of industries and professions provide economic opportunity for people, and statewide efforts are critical to grow the technology, advanced manufacturing, and healthcare sectors. But these sectors are often centered in urban areas, whereas three-quarters of our population still lives in rural communities. We need to spread economic growth to more of Vermont’s communities so that all Vermonters have the opportunity to prosper.

Agriculture and food systems, forest products, renewable energy, waste management, and environmental technology are five distinct, yet interconnected sectors that have been growing across the state by blending our historical advantages with 21st century innovation. Economic development in these sectors helps improve our rural communities. Food, energy, waste management, construction materials and furniture, and the technologies to produce and distribute these goods and services not only create jobs, but support businesses committed to their communities, and keeps more of our money circulating within the state. This, in turn, creates more employment opportunities and makes these goods and services more readily available and affordable for Vermonters as well as for export.

Vermont’s commitment to sustainability and the love of our working landscape are also of interest to the people who visit Vermont, some of whom move to Vermont to start businesses in these sectors. More businesses in working landscape related sectors means more jobs for Vermonters in rural communities.

Working together to grow Vermont’s economy

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund is seeking to collaborate more deeply with statewide and community economic development partners to strengthen product and service supply chains in agriculture and food systems, forest products, waste management, renewable energy, and environmental technology sectors—representing a competitive advantage for all of the businesses involved in the production and distribution of these goods and/or services.

By helping to create the conditions that lead to expanded market opportunities in these sectors, we are able to accelerate the creation of good paying and sustainable jobs for Vermonters. Manufacturing, engineering, distribution, retail, marketing, and financing are all examples of jobs that arise out of expanding the in-state supply chain, as we have seen in our work growing the local food economy through the implementation of Vermont’s Farm to Plate food system plan.

We serve clients from private sector businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies to create positive, systems-level change for the 21st century that elevates the well-being of Vermonters, our communities, and takes care of our clean air and fresh water so we can preserve what we cherish from our heritage and way of life, now and for future generations.

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund is a nonprofit organization created by the Vermont Legislature in 1995 to partner with state government, private sector businesses, and nonprofits to build a thriving economic, social, and ecological future for Vermont. Learn more about our services, programs, and impacts at www.vsjf.org and join the conversation on Facebook/VermontSustainableJobsFund.

Rachel Carter served as communications director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund until February, 2018.