Burlington: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Greater Burlington is the industrial, tourist, and financial center of the state. Manufacturing is the largest industry in Burlington, led by the electronics industries that had fueled an industrial boom during the 1990s. This region of Vermont supports nearly one-third of the state's manufacturing employment. The 20-block downtown shopping and residential district alone accounts for 9,000 workers in positions such as service, government, and retail, making it the second largest employment area in the state. The Greater Burlington region contains hundreds of small manufacturers producing a wide variety of products; many national and international manufacturing businesses have plants there that also support attendant service businesses. Tourism is the area's second largest industry; several banks are also headquartered there.

Items and goods produced: electronics and computer parts; food products; textiles; apparel; lumber; paper and wood products; furniture and fixtures; chemicals and allied products; petroleum, coal, rubber, plastic, leather, stone, clay, and glass products; toys; jewelry; primary and fabricated metals; machinery and electrical equipment; instruments.

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

Vermont, under the Regional Economic Development Program, has been organized into development districts to provide in-depth assistance to existing businesses and industries interested in locating in the area. Each of these nonprofit development corporations coordinates economic development efforts in the region. The agency responsible for Burlington is the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC). Also assisting local businesses is the Community and Economic Development Office, a department of the city of Burlington, that maintains business guides, offers tax incentives and loans, and advises on general business planning matters.

State programs

The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) consists of nine members appointed by the governor who facilitate several funding programs, while the State of Vermont's Department of Economic Development fosters business development and overseas trading. In 1998, Vermont passed Act 71, an Act Relating to Education, Taxation and Education Financing that contains a package of financial incentives, the most comprehensive in Vermont's history, designed to stimulate quality growth throughout the State of Vermont. Unlike incentive programs adopted by many states, Vermont's program incorporates a strategic framework that emphasizes quality jobs and symbolizes the state's core values with regard to meaningful employment opportunity. Facilitated by the Vermont Economic Progress Council (VEPC), the statute creates an innovative approval process for awarding tax incentives to both businesses and municipalities for economic development activity. Applications will be approved if they compare favorably to a set of guidelines and show that they will have a net positive fiscal effect. The incentives program is designed to benefit companies that already call Vermont home, with a special focus on small businesses.

Job training programs

The State of Vermont Department of Labor (VDOL) operates Career Resource Centers throughout the state for job-seekers, a free jobs database at Vermont JobLink, and the Workforce Education and Training Fund for both new and active workers while giving employers tax incentives for hiring displaced workers. The Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce's Learn to Earn program, as part of the Vermont School-to-Work collaborative, strives to enhance economic development and quality of life by focusing on improving the quality of education in the Lake Champlain region through business-education partnerships, School-to-Work transition initiatives, and workforce preparation strategies. It provides Learn to Earn opportunities in a variety of industry-certified programs including building trades, culinary studies, aviation technology, printing trades, dental assisting, childcare, and others. Students entering these programs receive advanced credits and placements when they enroll in college. Graduates of these partnership programs receive education and training that enables smooth transition into high paying jobs in the community.

The Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC), partially funded by the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), is available to assist new and existing small businesses with basic training courses and individual counseling; the Chittenden County branch worked with 170 clients in 2003. A field office of the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center (VMEC) is in Burlington, and offers workshops and counseling to small- and medium-sized manufacturers. The VMEC collaborates with the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), state colleges, and other state agencies.

Development Projects

The city's Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) creates detailed annual action plans that focus on particular projects and programs throughout the area. Recent developments reported by the CEDO in their 2003–2004 plan include the Innovation Center of Vermont, the Burlington Town Center, and waterfront growth (including a $14 million project involving an inn, theaters, and retail and office space). The vitality of the downtown area can be seen in the planning of 300 new housing units by 2008, and a condominium project. And, according to the proposed 2005 city budget, nearly $1 million in developmental monies have been set aside for improving the ascetics of the downtown area. In transportation, the Burlington International Airport began a $24.8 million expansion in 2003 that included a new parking garage, expansion of a terminal, and the addition of gates; the third phase is still in progress in 2005.

Economic Development Information: Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, 60 Main St., PO Box 786, Burlington, VT 05402; telephone (802)862-5726; toll-free (800)942-4288; fax (802)860-4288; email gbic@vermont.org. Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, 60 Main St., Ste. 100, Burlington, VT 05401; telephone (802)863-3489; toll-free (877)686-5253; fax (802)863-1538; email vermont@vermont.org

Commercial Shipping

Once perceived as a rural area far removed from transportation networks and cut off from important markets, supplies and services, the Greater Burlington area has solidified its position in telecommunications, road, rail, air, and waterborne transport of goods to all areas of the United States, Canada, and worldwide.

An excellent—and scenic—highway system is used by a number of local and long-distance trucking companies offering overnight service to cities as distant as Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Toronto, Canada—roughly 80 million consumers are located within a 500-mile radius of the city. Rail freight service is provided by Vermont Railway, which connects Burlington with three interline carriers including the Canadian Pacific Railway System, and Central Vermont Railway. Modern Burlington International Airport (BTV) offers air freight and expedited air service. Tugboats, barges, and tankers on Lake Champlain and its canals carry cargo to the Port of Montreal, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and south to the Port of New York.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Workers in the Greater Burlington area have been described as industrious, dependable, ingenious, and self-motivated. Its labor force has witnessed consistent growth in recent years with the total amount in 2002 of 106,500, representing nearly a third of Vermont's workers. Meanwhile, the city of Burlington's employment level of over 31,000 in 2002 also accounted for a third of Chittenden County's workforce. The greatest gains have been in the service industry which have helped to offset some losses in the manufacturing sector.

One of Vermont's biggest growth industries in the 1990s and 2000s was the "captive insurance" business, wholly-owned subsidiaries of large corporations that enable them to control insurance costs. Vermont passed its captive insurance law in 1981 and one captive was formed that year; by 1986 there were 69, and in 1990 there were 215; the number ballooned to more than 700 by the end of 2004.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Burlington and South Burlington, Vermont metropolitan area labor force, 2004 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 113,300

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 6,100

manufacturing: 15,300

trade, transportation and utilities: 22,000

information: 3,200

financial activities: 5,400

professional and business services: 10,000

educational and health services: 18,100

leisure and hospitality: 10,700

other services: 3,700

government: 19,100

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $15.15

Unemployment rate: 3.1% (April 2005)

Burlington: Economy

Largest employers (Burlington metropolitan area) Number of employees
IBM Corporation 6,000
Fletcher Allen Health Care 4,086
University of Vermont 3,137
Chittenden Corp. 1,208
IDX Systems Corporation 750
Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc. 735
Napoli Group 680
City of Burlington 654
Verizon 650
Goodrich Corp. 645

Cost of Living

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors in the Burlington area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $339,117

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 117.6 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: 3.6–9.5%

State sales tax rate: 6%

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: None

Property tax rate: $2.7162 per $100 of value (2005)

Economic Information: Lake Champlain Valley RMO, The Lake Champlain Regional Marketing Organization, 60 Main St., Ste. 100, Burlington, VT 05401; telephone (802)863-3489; toll-free (877)686-5253; fax (802)863-1538; email vermont@vermont.org. Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, 60 Main St., PO Box 786, Burlington, VT 05402; telephone (802)862-5726; toll-free (800)942-4288; fax (802)860-4288; email gbic@vermont.org. Vermont Department of Labor, PO Box 488, 5 Green Mountain Dr., Montpelier, VT 05601; telephone (802)828-4000; fax (802)828-4022. Community & Economic Development Office, City Hall, 149 Church St., Rm. 32, Burlington, VT 05401; telephone (802)865-7144; fax (802)865-7024; fd@ci.burlington.vt.us