Editorial: With roots in Vermont, company grows again

  • Courtesy of GW Plastics Courtesy of GW Plastics

Published: 5/29/2019 10:10:20 PM
Modified: 5/29/2019 10:10:16 PM

In an age when corporate loyalty rarely extends much beyond the bottom line, it is refreshing to learn of the decision by GW Plastics, one of Vermont’s largest manufacturers, to forgo other opportunities and expand again in its home state.

As staff writer John Lippman reported last week, the privately held company, which makes plastic injection mold products, has started building a 30,000-square-foot addition at its Royalton facility with the expectation of eventually adding 30 more positions to the 410 workers it currently employs at its Bethel and Royalton plants. (In all, the company has 1,100 employees at eight locations around the world.)

Notably, company president Brenan Riehl told Lippman that while GW Plastics had the opportunity to expand in other places where doing so might cost less, such as New Hampshire, “we’re committed to Vermont. We want to support our people, support our community and state, and (our) partnership with Vermont Tech, which is an incredibly valuable resource for us.”

Factors in favor of the $10 million home-state expansion, Riehl said, included the fact that the 24-acre site the company owns in Royalton already has the necessary permits and is only a few miles away from Vermont Technical College in Randolph, a key source of talent for the company.

Just how close a relationship exists between the company and Vermont Tech may be inferred from the fact that Riehl was this year’s commencement speaker. In praising the institution as one of the “finest technical colleges in the country,” he noted that GW Plastics employs 20 engineers who were educated at VTC. He then urged the 300 graduating seniors to “seize the moment, put your roots down here in Vermont and build a career, a family, and an incredible life.”

There is a lot to consider in all this. One is that close relationships between employers and institutions that provide technical education can help both to thrive, while addressing the often yawning gap between the skills companies need and the skills that the workforce possesses. And as VTC president Pat Moulton told VtDigger in a recent interview, the skill set companies seek is constantly changing with the evolution of the technology they use, so job training can’t be static.

And to the extent that VTC graduates and others similarly situated follow the company’s example by putting down roots and building “an incredible life” in Vermont, the state’s long-term population drain may be eased in some other way than by paying people to move to the Green Mountain State, which is the current strategy.

Last week, the House and Senate approved and sent to the governor the latest, $2 million iteration of that initiative. According to VtDigger, Sen. John Rodgers, D-Orleans, one of the few dissenters, noted that while the program has attracted good publicity and drawn some talented people to the state, “I still feel that we have a lot of really bright kids who are leaving the state to make more money. We need to do more to take care of our own.”

We agree. Companies that provide stable employment and pay well are instrumental to any vision of taking care of the state’s own, as are institutions that equip workers with the appropriate skills to take advantage of those opportunities. This implies the need for the state to make bigger investments in workforce development, including promoting technical education and making it more affordable, so that a shortage of skilled workers does not hold back economic growth.

By all means, Vermont should welcome newcomers, but it should also make it easier for young people who have grown up in the state to stay rooted.

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