2013 Year in Review: Business - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

2013 Year in Review: Business

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"As I begin my second term, the picture is brighter, " said Governor Peter Shumlin, in his State of the Budget speech to lawmakers back in January.

2013 began with the hope that the dark days of the Great Recession were finally behind us.

As measured by state tax revenues, the state economy did continue its ascent from the depths of the downturn in fiscal year 2010. And by the end of fiscal 2013 in June, total tax collections finally exceeded the pre-recession total from five years ago.

But economists warned that 2013 would not be a break out year for the economy -- especially on the jobs front. "We will be growing, just not as fast as we would like it and slow growth will continue as far as we can see for Vermont," said Richard Heaps with the Vermont Economic Outlook Conference.

In fact, the year saw many companies cutting jobs, including IBM in Essex Junction. Big Blue laid off more than 400 people in June. "It was a bad day. First reaction is you've got to go home, and you've got to tell your family," said IBM worker Cory Hinton.

Workers at other big companies had to deliver that same bad news this year -- Fairpoint, Dynapower, Revision and Rutland Regional Medical Center were just some of the companies cutting their work forces.

And the announcement came that hundreds more jobs will be lost next year when the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon shuts down. "This is much worse proportionately for the Brattleboro area than the recent layoffs at IBM were for the Chittenden County area," said Economist Art Woolf.

But there were also new jobs and economic growth in 2013. The grand opening of the long-planned Walmart in St. Albans town brought out a huge crowd of shoppers. "We needed this for a long time. I waited 25 years and I didn't think I was going to make it till we got it, but I did -- here I am," said one shopper.

Pharmaceutical company Mylan Technologies also brought new jobs to St. Albans with an expansion of its manufacturing plant. Hypertherm opened a new larger plant in Lebanon that can support a doubling of the company's workforce. The vacant Pfizer plant in Plattsburgh is getting a new tenant when Asept Pak moves in. And the $500 million development project in the Northeast Kingdom continues to move forward, with specific plans unveiled for upgrading the state airport and revitalizing downtown Newport. "Newport has marvelous physical assets so if you can get capital to invest in good ideas that we have for Newport, it will thrive," said Jay Peak President Bill Stenger.

The business of booze is also booming in our region. "We make very simple beers from very simple ingredients," said Shaun Hill, the craft brewer that started Hill Farmstead Brewery out of a garage in Greensboro.  He was rated as the best beer in the world. Fans soon came flocking to the back road brewery to get a taste. The Alchemist also drew big crowds to its Waterbury brewery. So big they had to stop offering their cans of Heady Topper for sale there.

It's not just beer, but liquor too. Vermont now has more than a dozen distilleries attracting interest from near and far. "People like seeing stuff made from Vermont. The products that Vermonters are making are really good," said William Goggins with the Vermont Department of Liquor Control.

But there are some growing pains -- including push back from neighbors who worry about traffic and waste from production. The makers of Whistle Pig Whiskey found themselves in a permitting battle over plans to expand in Shoreham. "Emotions are high. You have a titanic lunatic with a budget who's abusing the time of everyone here," said Raj Peter Bhakta with Whistle Pig.

Vermont is better connected at the end of 2013, thanks to new cell towers and investments in broadband Internet services. But the state came up short of the governor's 2011 pledge to have 100-percent coverage.

The big change in health care coverage was perhaps the biggest business news of 2013. The Affordable Care Act carries new mandates that have increased insurance costs, and the state's smallest businesses are now required to purchase plans through Vermont Health Connect, the new online exchange. But the roll-out has been hampered by computer glitches, security failures and customer service complaints. "I can't tell you how deeply grateful I am to Vermonters for their patience and we will get this right," Gov. Shumlin said in October.

The year comes to a close amid the holiday shopping season, a critical time for retailers. 2013 saw what might be the end of the Black Friday early "door buster" tradition -- with most major retailers opening instead on Thanksgiving. "Actually not a big Black Friday shopper, but since they're open on Thanksgiving and I'm not working, I kind of like to stop in," said Patrice Thabault of Burlington.

Retailers hope that early start will help make this a happy holiday season.

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