Bennington Banner
Thursday, August 22, 2002

Economic prosperity. Quality of life. There's a difference?

Vermont unemployment is on the rise; high paying manufacturing jobs are on the decline. In such times of economic difficulty, editorial writers express concern about a shift of public priorities from environmental protection to economic development. What Vermonters need to understand clearly is that a productive economy, regionally and statewide, lies at the very heart of our quality of life.

Before any country or region can afford the environmental and aesthetic enhancements we are blessed with today, its inhabitants have to have good job opportunities and a high standard of living. If you doubt this, visit any Third World country where people put jobs, food and shelter far ahead of environmental protection. OMYA is, like virtually all Vermont employers, concerned about the environment and quality of life.

Today OMYA employs over 300 people. Those people and their families depend on the growth and profitability of our company. Beyond the walls of OMYA's Florence facility and our Proctor headquarters, 177 Vermont businesses rely on OMYA to grow and prosper. In 1999 there were 250 Vermont businesses from which OMYA purchased goods and services. Why the decrease in vendors? The state-imposed limitation of truck trips on a US highway restricted our growth. That has directly impacted 73 Vermont businesses and their employees.

Bill Hahn recently wrote an article for the Rutland Herald discussing the "multiplier effect," using OMYA as an example. The multiplier effect results from spending by OMYA employees and the employees of its 177 vendors on groceries, gas, mortgages, car payments, clothing, and entertainment. That money continues to circulate over and over in our local communities.

In 1999 OMYA spent roughly $85 million in the state, including payroll, goods, services, and taxes. In 2001 that number decreased to $66 million. That's a difference of $19 million. Applying a multiplier of five, as Mr. Hahn suggests, OMYA's reduced activity alone caused a $95 million decline in revenue to the state and the region. That reduced activity flowed directly from an Environmental Board decision restricting the number of round trips from our Middlebury quarry to 115 per day.

The Board relied on what it found to be the negative aesthetic impact of trucking through the town of Brandon. At the time the permit was issued, OMYA trucks made up approximately 3 percent of the total traffic flowing through Brandon on any given weekday. That percentage is declining every year as other traffic, which is not limited, continues to grow.

Sure, traffic causes noise, vibration, and exhaust, but to lay blame on OMYA's alone is just silly. After all, the men and women hauling marble ore live here, pay taxes here, and purchase goods here. The majority of "through" trucks using U.S. Route 7 do not. Yet those through trucks have no restrictions on when or how often they can drive through Brandon or any other Vermont community.

OMYA uses rail to ship its finished product out of state to be value-added by other manufacturers and distributed throughout the nation as consumer products. Almost four years ago, OMYA entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Agency of Natural Resources, and Vermont Railway, Inc. The MOU encourages a public and private partnership to study, and hopefully implement, an alternative to trucking ore from Middlebury. The partners are committed to finding solutions that are good for the state, local communities, OMYA, and other private businesses as well.

This conversation isn't about bringing to justice some heartless giant pillaging the land. It is about the people who live and (hopefully) work here. People who attend church on Sunday. People who you see in the shops and stores or at the diner counter. People who read the local paper. People whose kids go to school with your kids. When there is little or no growth of businesses in the region, these people's lives are affected.

Balancing economic growth, environmental concerns, and quality of life certainly is possible, but we must always remember that it is job- and value-producing businesses that are the indispensable engine of our society.

Jim Reddy is president of OMYA Industries, Inc. in Proctor. Reddy writes on behalf of the Ethan Allen Institute.