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Hula transforms lakefront property into tech-savvy space

Published: Jul. 8, 2021 at 5:40 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s a vision to make Vermont the next Silicon Valley -- Hula has re-imagined the former Blodgett Oven property into a technology-driven co-working campus to attract startup companies to the Burlington waterfront.

The Burlington coworking campus, business accelerator, and venture capital fund now has 65 companies specializing in everything from electric airplanes to vegan ice cream. Roughly 600 people work across the 150,000 square-foot campus. CEO Robert Lair says he believes Vermont is making a name for itself in the tech world and wants to draw as many high-powered companies to the city as possible. In an effort to go against the grain, Hula is pairing the businesses normally seen in big cities with Vermont’s outdoor recreation opportunities.

“People want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to be hired at a cutting-edge technology job, and they want to be able to ski in the morning before they come to work. They want to be able to go paddle on the lake, they want it all,” Lair said.

He says tech companies are the answer for Vermont because the work can be done from anywhere. The investment comes at a critical time for the state as demographic challenges and workforce shortages continue. ”I think Vermont has never been seen necessarily as a top-tier financial business-friendly state but I would say that it’s starting to be seen as that, as one of the top places in the Northeast to do business,” says Lair.

Despite flashy perks like a restaurant, a bar, and surf club access, Hula also is investing in startups by giving companies that need capital the chance to grow their business. Benchmark Space Systems took advantage of the opportunity. The company recently sent a few satellites to space using their propulsion technology.

“It’s no longer, ‘Vermont?’ It’s like, ‘Oh, Vermont,’ and that’s a very subtle but important distinction, even in the four years that I’ve been doing this,” said Ryan McDevitt, Bwenchmark’s CEO and co-founder.

“It’s difficult to find such stunning places that can accommodate the work we can do. Hula has made us feel at home and allows us to develop ambitious technology,” said Samantha Graham, a senior propulsion engineer at Benchmark.

Tech jobs could be a big economic growth opportunity for the state. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the median income in Vermont is about $32,000. Experts estimate tech jobs can pay up to 80% more. “There’s an opportunity for tech not to be only in tech to Chittenden County, which already has a number of tech companies, but for places around the state. There are opportunities throughout the state with expanded broadband that we can attract tech workers and tech businesses,” said Jeff Couture of the Vermont Technology Alliance.

“I just think we should embrace technology, embrace the jobs it brings forward and each and every community to think what can they do to be more enticing to its residents,” said Vt. Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein

Other businesses that have benefited from Hula’s startup fund include Garnet, which assists the Vermont Department of Health; the UVM Medical Center and Champlain College with COVID-19 testing; and Beta Technologies, the electric airplane company that recently struck a deal to sell electric planes to UPS.

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