Advocates say Reach Up works and should not be cut

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Kate Kanelstein, in the second row at left, testified against imposing a three-year cutoff in the Reach Up program Monday at a Vermont Interactive Television hearing on the state budget. Beside her is Cindy Perron of Barton, who testified on health care. In the foreground at right, George Frisbee, commander of the Jay Peak Post of the American Legion, testifies against a proposed tax on break open tickets. Beside him is Harvey Robitaille, past commander of Legion Post 21 in Newport. Legion members attended the hearings at sites across the state to argue that the tax would cripple the charitable programs the Legion supports in Vermont. Photo by Chris Braithwaite

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle 2-13-13

NEWPORT — Kate Kanelstein of the Vermont Workers Center was a bit apologetic when she sat in front of the camera during a statewide budget hearing Monday afternoon.

She had planned to bring several women who face the loss of their Reach Up benefits under the cutoff proposed by Governor Peter Shumlin.

But none of them could make it, she told the members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees who convened the hearing.

The women had encountered problems with child care, car troubles, sick family members, and one of them was in labor, Ms. Kanelstein said.

She used her few minutes on Vermont Interactive Television to read a statement from Reach Up participant Jess Ray of West Charleston.

But the explanations she offered the committee might serve as a quick summary of the problems that keep Reach Up participants, typically single mothers, out of the labor force.

Ms. Ray, for example, wrote that she is a mother of two, living with a boyfriend.  “Combined, we get $770 each month.  Our rent is $550 so after paying bills I usually end up with like $20 for everything else.  I love to sew and want to be a seamstress, but I would do pretty much anything if I could get a job.”

Ms. Ray went on the say that the arrival of her first child ended her career at a Barton nursing home five years ago.  “I went on Reach Up for the first time because I didn’t get any maternity leave with my job.”

They left Reach Up when her boyfriend got a job, but returned in less than a year because the company went bankrupt, she wrote.

“Then we got off again when I got a job at Thibault’s Market in Orleans but our car wasn’t inspectable and we didn’t have the money for the repairs so after about three months I couldn’t get there and lost that job, too.  As you can see we live on the edge and it’s really hard to get stable….  Living in West Charleston without transportation makes it incredibly difficult.”

“I also want to understand what you are basing these budget decisions on,” Ms. Ray told the legislators.  “Do you look at the real life situations of people in our communities?  I think that is where we should start.”

The decision in question is whether the Legislature should follow the Governor’s wishes and, on October 1, cut off all families who have been in the Reach Up program for three years.

According to Chris Curtis, a staff attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, 1,188 families would lose their benefits in October, of a total of about 6,400 families on the program.

Of that total, as of September last year, 315 families with 775 family members are in the Newport district of the Department of Children and Families, which oversees Reach Up.  Their benefits that month totaled $147,764, or about $470 a family.

The average Reach Up participant wouldn’t be affected by a three-year cutoff.  According to a state report, “the average amount of time that an individual in Reach Up receives case management services is approximately 24 months.”

But people who know the program in Newport are worried about the impact a cutoff would have.

“My biggest fear is the children,” said Mary Hamel, who runs a job site for Reach Up participants as associate director of employment and training for NECKA.

“Reach up is for families,” Ms. Hamel said.  “Cutting them off is taking away their rent money — the roof over a child’s head.  That concerns me.”

It concerns Mr. Curtis too.  People forced out of Reach Up may end up in the state’s emergency shelter program, he said, and that is already “an exploding part of state government.  What happens if you add another 1,200 families, just as the winter season arrives?”

Other branches of state government, including the Department of Corrections, may face a “ripple effect” from the Reach Up cuts, Mr. Curtis fears.  “Are we really saving any money here?”

His estimate is that the cuts will save Reach Up about $6-million.  “That’s huge to the families,” he said, “but to the General Fund it’s a relatively small amount.”

Mr. Curtis argues that the statistics show Reach Up works for most of the people who are forced to use it.  “The state of Vermont has invested a lot of resources into making this bridge out of poverty,” he argued.  “Why would we blow up that bridge?”

Since she set up a Reach Up work site for NECKA in 2008, Ms. Hamel said, “we have seen many success stories.”

NECKA provides jobs for 15 to 30 Reach Up participants, Ms. Hamel said.  Some work at the Parent Child Center in Newport, as a receptionist or a maintenance worker.  Others work at the cash register or keeping track of the inventory at NEKCA’s thrift store in Newport.

Reach Up has other partners who provide jobs in schools, municipalities and with nonprofit organizations.

The jobs go to Reach Up participants who can’t find work.  They pay nothing (outside of Reach Up benefit payments) but aim to help the participants learn job skills.

Younger Reach Up participants fulfill their job requirement by going to school.

The Governor’s proposal would permit families to take advantage of the full five years of benefits supported by federal block grants.  But there would be interruptions.  After three years, participants would be on their own for a year.  Then they could sign up for another year, be left on their own for a year, and come back to the program for a fifth and final year.

Efforts to reach Paul Dragon, director of the Reach Up program, were unsuccessful.  In his budget address to the Legislature, Governor Shumlin said “there is no better social program than a good paying job.  We will not allow vulnerable Vermonters, such as those who are disabled, to fall through the cracks, but we will ask those who can work to get the training and support they need and get a job.”

If the cutoff becomes law, Ms. Hamel said, “it will cause more homelessness, more hunger, more stress.

“I just don’t think it’s a great idea.  Maybe it’s a good idea to have a conversation about it, but I think it’s a bad thing to take the Governor’s plan seriously.”

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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In Derby: Walmart could open in 2014

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Burlington-based developer Jeff Davis points to a drawing of a proposed Walmart Tuesday during a ceremony to announce the project. Many local and state officials attended to celebrate the long-sought big box store including, from left to right, state Senator John Rodgers, Lawrence Miller, secretary of the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development (nearly hidden), Derby Selectman Beula Jean Shattuck, Derby Selectman Stephen Gendreau, state Representative Loren Shaw, and Derby Selectman Brian Smith. Photo by Joseph Gresser

 by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 1-16-2013

DERBY —  “Since Ames closed five years or so ago my vocabulary has consisted of two four-letter words — when and soon,” said Brian Smith, chairman of the Derby Selectmen, Tuesday.  “Now is a good word to use.”

He was speaking a crowd gathered in a field just off Route 5 where, if all goes smoothly, a Walmart might open its doors in the fall of 2014.

The crowd included many local residents and a sizeable array of state legislators along with Governor Peter Shumlin.

All were there to cheer the announcement that after eight years of off and on discussion, Walmart, the Arkansas-based retail giant, plans to build an almost 150,000-square-foot Supercenter in the Northeast Kingdom.

The mood was upbeat.  There were protestors on hand, but their signs were meant for the Governor and supported a wind tower moratorium.

Mr. Shumlin, though, was focused on the new store, which he said would complement other development planned for the Northeast Kingdom.

He pointed out Gisele Seymour, one of the project’s biggest supporters.  “Gisele gathered more signatures for the project than there are live people in the Kingdom,” he joked of her petition drive.

“This is how we create jobs,” Mr. Shumlin said.  He said the project “fits into a mosaic of thousands of jobs for Kingdom kids.”

Mr. Shumlin crowed that the Derby store would be a victory over New Hampshire, to which many Kingdom residents have traveled to shop for years.

“New Hampshire loses revenue.  New Hampshire loses a few jobs and we gained them.  It’s about time we got smart,” he declared.

Developer Jeff Davis built a Walmart in Williston and has begun construction, after a long battle with opponents, on one in St. Albans.  He acted as master of ceremonies.  He said that Mr. Shumlin had worked with him on the project but was not a “rubber stamp.”

He said the Governor asked questions about the size of the store and the possibility of putting it in Newport instead of on the Newport-Derby Road.  Mr. Davis said that a study conducted to determine the feasibility of a proposal to build the store in Newport floated by the Preservation Trust of Vermont (PTV), was conducted at the behest of the Governor.

The study determined that the PTV proposal to build a multi-story Walmart on Main Street in Newport was not economically sound.

Mr. Davis introduced and thanked Senator Bobby Starr for his longstanding support along with former Senator Vince Illuzzi, who missed the event.

Newport Mayor Paul Monette came in for special praise for his support of the project, as did Mr. Smith.  “He’s a household word at my house and my office.  He’s called and called and called,” Mr. Davis said.

Alexandra Serra, who is from the public relations department of Walmart’s New England office, said the new store will mean 300 more Walmart jobs in Vermont.  She said the company will also increase its charitable contributions in the state, which, she said, currently amount to $500,000 a year.

Ms. Serra confirmed reports of a new policy by Walmart to offer jobs to any veteran who left the service with an honorable discharge in the past year.

She said that the new store will definitely include a grocery department with fresh food, but otherwise said plans for what departments the new store will include have yet to be finished.

After the brief ceremony, which attracted media attention from around the state, Mr. Davis discussed some of the details of the project.

The plans for the store, displayed on both sides of the podium, Mr. Davis said are just preliminary drawings.  The actual plans will not be drawn up until Walmart has decided what it needs.

Mr. Davis said Walmart originally wanted to have a 180,000-to-190,000-square-foot store, but scaled it back at his request.

He said that Tuesday’s announcement marks only the beginning of the process.  Before the permitting process can get underway Mr. Davis said, there will need to be studies about the project’s effects on the local economy, traffic and air quality as well as storm water and sewer studies.

Once those studies are complete, he said, he will draw up plans and begin the Act 250 and Derby town planning process.  He will also start negotiating with local leaders about impact fees.

Agreements drawn up with Derby and Newport and ratified by wide margins in balloting in each town commit both communities to support Walmart in the permitting process.

They also promise to provide funds to the towns to mitigate any untoward impacts the project may have.  Newport is to get at least $600,000 over six years.  Derby’s payments will be negotiated, Mr. Davis said.

There are still potential hurdles, Mr. Davis said, including the possibility that people may try to block the store.

Mr. Davis said, “This is a developer’s risk project.”  If Walmart decides it will take too long or cost too much to build in Derby they can still back out.

Being at risk is no change for Mr. Davis.  He bought the property between Route 5 and Shattuck Hill Road for about $1-million eight years ago.  Last year he added more land to the parcel, investing another $600,000.  He still has enough property to build several smaller stores near the Walmart, although Mr. Davis said he currently has no plans for the land.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Governor’s race: Is our hair on fire?

Governor Peter Shumlin announced a contract that would create helmet-building jobs in Newport earlier this month. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 10-31-2012

by Bethany M. Dunbar

“When your hair is on fire, you don’t call for a moratorium while you go put your hair out,” said Governor Peter Shumlin.

Mr. Shumlin’s point is that the planet is facing a global crisis, and with oil going regularly up to $4 a gallon and the effects of climate change being felt everywhere including Vermont, “We can’t get off oil quickly enough.”

In the Northeast Kingdom two major wind turbine projects are — depending on your point of view — either a tribute to his efforts to make renewable energy happen quickly, or a symbol of top-down government that allows little local control.

One can’t say there is no local control involved because host towns have had an opportunity to vote on whether or not they want these projects.

“I happen to think they’re beautiful,” said Mr. Shumlin.  “I am sympathetic and empathetic to those who are not in favor.”

He said any town that votes a project down should not have to host it, and he’s made that opinion clear to the three-member Public Service Board (appointed by the Governor) that makes decisions on wind projects.

“I think the Public Service Board process works,” he said.

All that doesn’t stop neighbors in towns that suffer equal or more effects from wind projects and don’t have a vote, and don’t get property tax benefits, from getting frustrated.

That frustration is part of the platform of two of the Governor’s opponents.  Republican Randy Brock, formerly the state’s auditor and currently a state senator, supports a moratorium and says Vermont’s already got the cleanest energy portfolio of any state.

Randy Brock was in Barton on Tuesday to judge a pumpkin pie contest at the Barton Senior Center. He took the task seriously, creating a grid system on index cards for the four judges, where taste and crust would have twice as much weight in the judging as appearance and consistency. At left is the manager of the center, Brenda Sargent. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

“The whole industrial wind thing is an issue for so many people,” he said.  He was one of the co-sponsors of the moratorium.  “I don’t think we’ve really done the homework.”

“When we blow off the mountaintops it has an impact on all the surrounding towns and all of Vermont,” he said.  “I’m concerned about the effect on the aesthetics and the ecosystems,” he said.  “I’m also concerned about the economic issues.”

He said Vermont does not actually use much coal or oil.  Mainly our electric power comes from nuclear power, natural gas, and hydroelectricity.  Coal and oil account for only 3.3 percent of Vermont’s electrical energy, he said.

He said while he supports renewables for the future, “the technology isn’t here.”  For one thing, it’s still too expensive, he said.  That means by building it now, poor and working class Vermonters are footing the bill for corporations to get into renewables.

“What I see here is Robin Hood in reverse.”

He said building renewables in Vermont could cost the state jobs as the cost of electricity goes up too high, and companies like IBM start taking a closer look at their expenses.  IBM pays 25 percent less for electricity in one nearby state and 50 percent less in Canada.

Annette Smith is the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.  She got into the race for governor late — reluctantly at first, and mainly because people asked her to.  She was narrowly defeated in the Primary for a Progressive nomination, which means her name is not on the ballot.  But she is continuing as a write-in.  The winner of the Progressive nomination, Martha Abbott, stepped down, saying the party agrees with Governor Shumlin on two of the issues most important to the party — closing the aging, dangerous Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and health care.  Yet the party stopped short of endorsing Mr. Shumlin.

Ms. Smith said voters who want more local control should write in her name.  She has a history of figuring out strategies for fighting back against corporations that seem to want to roll over the regular people at times.

“I do have a process that has worked and made me very effective,” she said.  She said her preference is not to “break the rules but redefine the rules.”

“This campaign is not just about wind.  It’s about local control.”

Asked her position on the jobs and the economy, she said, “I see nothing but opportunities in Vermont.  We have a tremendously intellectual population and skilled people.”

She said a lot of people look at economic development as an effort to bring in large manufacturing companies, but she would like to see more new small ones starting up.

Annette Smith has been in the area often in her efforts with Vermonters for Clean Energy, but we did not manage to get a photograph. This one is courtesy of penwardenphotography.com.

“I see the capital we have right here in Vermont being put to use,” she said.

On that she and Mr. Brock agree.  He said jobs and the economy are the number one issue for him.

“We’ve got to grow our economic pie instead of figuring out how to cut it up,” he said.  He said his first task as Governor will be to go around to all the welcome centers and where the signs say, “Welcome to Vermont” he will add one underneath it:  “Open for business.”

“We need to change the perception that Vermont isn’t open for business,” he said.  He said Vermont is open, and the permits that developers need to obtain are not unnecessary.  “Our environment is really important.  We don’t want Vermont to look like New Jersey.”  He said sometimes it’s a matter of changing the emphasis of people who handle the permit process.  He said when a developer comes in the door, the state permit workers should adopt an attitude that the permits are important but “my job is to help you be successful.”

He would like to set up a micro loan program for people who are unemployed and want to start a business instead of just getting a job.

“We have a lot of talented people that are unemployed,” he said.

Mr. Shumlin gives high priority to job creation as well, and he points out that he’s had considerable success in that area.  He said Vermont has the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the country, and is the only state that saw income growth in the past two years.

“I promised that I would focus on job creation like a laser,” he said.  In Newport to celebrate a contract for helmets at the Revision Military helmet plant earlier this month, Governor Shumlin said, in an interview after the press conference, the recent announcement by Bill Stenger and others about 5,000 to 10,000 jobs for the area is wonderful news.

To those who are nervous about possible consequences from the development, Mr. Shumlin said fear of change is always going to be a factor for people, but this is good news.  Put in perspective, 5,000 people is not a huge number, he said — Jay Peak might have that many on the slopes on a busy day in the winter.

“Let’s rejoice in the simple fact,” he said.  Issues of infrastructure for those jobs can certainly be solved, he said.

Mr. Shumlin worked on a bill that changed the wording of state law to make Vermont government documents more open and accessible to the press and the public, and he said if re-elected he will continue those efforts.

There are currently over 200 exceptions to a state law that says government records should be open to the public.  Instead of trying to comb through them all at once and get rid of unnecessary exceptions, the Governor said he wants to take one area at a time, starting with the courts and police.

Governor Shumlin might be best known for his support of a single-payer government health care plan that would make sure all Vermonters have access to affordable health care.  It is a lofty goal, and the Legislature has passed a law to move in that direction.  But that next step is dependent on federal funds that are most likely dependent on the re-election of President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Mr. Shumlin’s challengers both say they are not convinced it’s the way to go, or maybe not exactly as proposed.

Ms. Smith said she is in favor of single-payer, but believes the state must get a handle on costs and offer choices to patients.

“I would like us to move much more toward consumer-driven health care,” said Mr. Brock.  He said there are steps that can be taken right away to address many of the concerns Vermonters have about health care, including making the costs of every procedure transparent.  At a gut level, he believes competition would drive the costs down and increase the quality better than a government plan would do.

Health care is one-sixth of Vermont’s economy at $5-billion, he said, and a board of five unelected people should not be the ones making all the decisions.  He’d like to look at what some other states are doing, including Maine, he said.

“Is there a reason that 49 other states are not doing what we are doing?” he asked.

Emily Peyton, who is running for Governor as an independent, made a campaign swing through Barton, but efforts to arrange a time for an interview were not successful.  Ms. Peyton is from Putney.  She has a background in videography and supports organics, industrial hemp, and holistic health.  Cris Ericson is a candidate under the United States Marijuana Party in Vermont.  Dave Eagle is the Liberty Union Party candidate and calls himself an information technology refugee.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Summertime 2012

Some of our favorite images of summer 2012 in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont:

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Stunts at the air show at the Newport State Airport. Photo by Joseph Gresser

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Bread and Puppet Theater brings up the rear of a terrific Independence Day parade in Barton. Photo by Tena Starr

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Lynn Berard of Barton sold her watercolors at the Crafts of the Lake Region craft show July 28 to benefit the Barton Public Library. Photo by Tena Starr

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Reed Olsen (259), of Barton, got off to a fast start in the 2012 edition of the Tour de Glover on Saturday, July 28, but not fast enough to capture first place. His time of 55 minutes 39 seconds was bettered by a slim five seconds by Hartford, Connecticut, rider Brendan Mahoney. The Tour de Glover is one of the signature events that mark Glover Day. Glover Day, the last Saturday of July each year, is a town-wide celebration of community to benefit volunteer organizations. Photo by Joseph Gresser

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Emily Maclure, who grew up in Orleans, is the new owner of the Craftsbury General Store. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

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Katie Levasseur, Ms. Vermont 2011, at left, stands with Newport City Renaissance Corporation director Patricia Sears during Taste of Newport festivities in June 2012. Photo by Joseph Gresser

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Robert Tanguay (left) as SpongeBob Squarepants, and his teammate Lance Wells walked in the Relay for Life fundraiser to fight cancer in Newport June 23 and 24. Photo by Richard Creaser

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Rain on a rose in West Glover. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

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Governor Peter Shumlin cools off with an ice cream cone as Jamie Michaud of Kingdom Creamery in Hardwick and his wife, Leslie, stand by. Photo by Joseph Gresser

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Twenty-six horses and riders took to the trails for the Rhonda Libby Memorial Trail Ride to benefit the Pope Memorial Frontier Animal Shelter on the CCC trails at the south end of Lake Willoughby. Pictured above, from left to right, are: Deb Libby, Rhonda Libby’s sister, riding Rose; Connie Knaggs, shelter manager, riding Hameed; and Cindy Libby, Rhonda's sister-in-law, riding Lena. Photo by Brianne Nichols.

Stunts at the air show at the Newport State Airport.  Photo by Joseph GresserBread and Puppet Theater brings up the rear of a terrific Independence Day parade in Barton.  Photo by Tena StarrLynn Berard of Barton sold her watercolors at the Crafts of the Lake Region craft show July 28 to benefit the Barton Public Library.  Photo by Tena StarrReed Olsen (259), of Barton, got off to a fast start in the 2012 edition of the Tour de Glover on Saturday, July 28, but not fast enough to capture first place.  His time of 55 minutes 39 seconds was bettered by a slim five seconds by Hartford, Connecticut, rider Brendan Mahoney.  The Tour de Glover is one of the signature events that mark Glover Day.  Glover Day, the last Saturday of July each year, is a town-wide celebration of community to benefit volunteer organizations.  Photo by Joseph GresserEmily Maclure, who grew up in Orleans, is the new owner of the Craftsbury General Store. Photo by Bethany M. DunbarKatie Levasseur, Ms. Vermont 2011, at left, stands with Newport City Renaissance Corporation director Patricia Sears during Taste of Newport festivities in June 2012.  Photo by Joseph GresserRobert Tanguay (left) as SpongeBob Squarepants, and his teammate Lance Wells walked in the Relay for Life fundraiser to fight cancer in Newport June 23 and 24.  Photo by Richard CreaserRain on a rose in West Glover. Photo by Bethany M. DunbarGovernor Peter Shumlin cools off with an ice cream cone as Jamie Michaud of Kingdom Creamery in Hardwick and his wife, Leslie, stand by.  Photo by Joseph GresserTwenty-six horses and riders took to the trails for the Rhonda Libby Memorial Trail Ride to benefit the Pope Memorial Frontier Animal Shelter on the CCC trails at the south end of Lake Willoughby. Pictured above, from left to right, are:  Deb Libby, Rhonda Libby’s sister, riding Rose; Connie Knaggs, shelter manager, riding Hameed; and Cindy Libby, Rhonda's sister-in-law, riding Lena.  Photo by Brianne Nichols.
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Governor tours local high-tech businesses

Jordan Medley feeds a maple board into a saw at Appalachian Engineered Flooring in North Troy as Governor Shumlin looks on. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle August 1, 2012

Governor Peter Shumlin visited two new high tech businesses that are bringing much needed jobs to the Northeast Kingdom last week.

Both are companies that take advantage of high-tech production methods.  For one, Numia Medical Technology, a maker of infusion pumps used for administering medications in hospitals, that is not a startling discovery.

The use of precision technology at a forest products factory in North Troy, may be more of a surprise.

That plant, Appalachian Engineered Flooring, uses high technology to create top-of-the-line  tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring, according to company officials.

The Governor was welcomed, on his July 25 visit, by Appalachian’s president, Jean Leduc and the company’s 18 employees.  He asked how many had been unemployed before Appalachian opened earlier this year.

A couple of hands went up, and Mr. Shumlin appeared pleased.

He praised Mr. Leduc for opening his factory in North Troy.  Appalachian Engineered Flooring is the sister company to one Mr. Leduc already operates in Cowansville, Quebec.

“You could have settled anywhere,” the Governor said.  He added, Vermont can boast “the best workforce in the world in the Northeast Kingdom.”

“I promise to be a great partner as you grow, expand, create jobs and make money,” Mr. Shumlin said.

“This is what we intend to do,” Mr. Leduc replied.

He led the Governor and his entourage on a tour of the plant.  These included Kiersten Bourgeois, a senior project manager with the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, an aide who snapped pictures of the Governor with workers and immediately sent them by e-mail, and his State Police bodyguard.

Inside, Mr. Leduc showed off the production line, through which eight-foot long pieces of wood are transformed into flooring.  The wood is, as far as possible, locally harvested, said Magella Levesque, the project manager for Appalachian.

The company makes its flooring from maple, red and white oak, birch and walnut, Mr. Levesque said.

While the raw material for most of the flooring arrives at the factory in the form of sawn lumber, the birch flooring is made from plywood.

Mr. Leduc explained that the only place he has been able to find the right quality of birch plywood is Russia.  He lifted a sheet for the Governor and explained that the grain of the white birch — in the layers of veneer that go into the plywood — are glued together at right angles.

“We are trying to develop a local product.  We’re close, but not enough,” Mr. Leduc told Mr. Shumlin.  “It has to be very stable.”

Nearby Richard Lamb got ready to feed maple boards into a saw that would slice it to the thickness of the final piece of flooring.  Before doing so, he measured its thickness with a set of calipers.

That is an indication of Appalachian’s drive for quality, said General Manager Robert Collette.

“Our objective is to be the best, not necessarily the biggest,” he said.  “We want to be the beacon for the industry.”

As an example, Mr. Collette said that his company only uses diamond-tipped cutting tools.

The wear experienced by carbide tips leads to less precise dimensions in the final piece of flooring, Mr. Collette said.  The cutting heads are changed on a regular schedule, he added, before they begin to show signs of wear.

Further down the production line, Mr. Collette pointed out a scanner that examines each piece of flooring produced by the plant.  It quickly grades the piece and marks where it ought to be cut.

A clear section of flooring will be marked by the machine as class 1, a slightly less perfect section will be designated as class 2 or antiqued floor, and anything below that is class 3.

Mr. Collette said the scanner can divide the flooring piece into a section as short as one foot or as long as 84 inches, thus maximizing the value of every piece of wood, while maintaining the quality of the final product.

The last step in production is performed by a trio of human inspectors.  A fourth quality control worker patrols the plant looking for any problems, Mr. Collette said.

Mr. Shumlin said his farewells and headed for Newport, where he paid a brief visit to the Pick and Shovel and to the Emory A. Hebard State Office Building before driving over to the old Vermont Teddy Bear factory on the banks of Lake Memphremagog.

There Numia’s employees were in a festive mood, waiting for the Governor to arrive.  Numia’s president Eric Flachbart had laid out refreshments to welcome Mr. Governor and a group of legislators, and representatives of organizations that helped in his company’s growth including the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA).

Numia designs and produces infusion pumps, the devices that drip medications into intravenous lines connected to hospitalized patients.

“We stand here today, because Eric came up here from Massachusetts and saw a better place to live,” Mr. Shumlin said.  He said that Mr. Flachbart originally expected to be the only employee of his company, but now has 35 workers and thinks he may be up to 50 within 18 months.

He added that Numia is bringing the Northeast Kingdom “one step closer to making sure no Kingdom kid who wants to stay here has to leave for lack of a job.”

Along with Appalachian flooring, Mr. Shumlin said Numia is bringing “a slow but steady improvement in the lives of the people of the Kingdom, creating jobs one job at a time.”

One of those jobs is held by Kaytlyn Darling, a Lyndonville native.  While leading a tour of the plant, Ms. Darling told how she was hired by Numia as temporary worker after she graduated from Lyndon State College in 2009.

She is currently the lead lab technician for the company.

Ms. Darling showed a small group of visitors into her domain, where several cream-colored boxes stood attached to the kind of upright stands normally seen in hospitals.

Each box had a screen and control buttons and each box was attached to a device into which a nurse might fit a hypodermic syringe.  The boxes can be programmed to administer continual doses of medication from the needle into an intravenous line, or to provide a measured dose at scheduled intervals, said Rolf Zuk, the company’s principal software engineer.

He said Numia has a patent on the very accurate motor that controls the dosage.  Another company wanted to license that technology for its own product.

After looking over the Newport operation the company asked Numia to take over other aspects of product development, until Numia was finally hired to see the project through to completion.

That process involves seeking approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Ms. Darling said.  That can be painfully slow, Mr. Zuk added saying that documentation was sent to the FDA in September and no decision has yet been made.

Ms. Darling pointed at a bookshelf that was filled with a dozen thick loose-leaf binders.  That, she said, is the paperwork that is required of manufacturers of medical devices.

The need to make safe products that can be used without error, is a big issue for Numia, Mr. Zuk said.  He said that a substantial portion of the price of a pump goes to pay for liability insurance.

Ms. Darling led the tour into a dimly lit room.  On one wall was a two-way mirror looking into what appeared to be a hospital room.  A moment’s glance showed that the patient was actually a medical mannequin.

Nurses and other medical professionals visit the room for instruction in how Numia’s products work, Ms. Darling said.  After a few days they return and operate the equipment without supervision as Numia workers look on from behind the mirror.

They note errors that can be corrected by better design and make changes to the pumps, Mr. Zuk said.

He said that one group of nurses tried to insert syringes backward.  The pumps were redesigned to make that impossible.

Another nurse was seen struggling to open another pump.  That machine was reengineered to require less force to open it.

Numia’s products have yet to take over the medical universe.  Mr. Flachbart said hospitals buy large amounts of pumps on a regular schedule.  The market is considerable, though.

While a small hospital like North Country in Newport may have an inventory of about 150 pumps, a large teaching hospital such as Massachusetts General in Boston, may have a fleet of 10,000, Mr. Flachbart said.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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