VTDigger Opinion: Greenfield: To be more like a business, the state needs to invest

From Vermont Digger
April 22, 2013

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, who lives in Williston.

Although it took me awhile to find Vermont and settle down here, I am glad that Vermont is my home. I am proud to live in a place where people care about each other and believe that everyone has something to contribute to the community. I am also proud of the business that we built here in Vermont, and I appreciate the lessons I have learned as our business has grown.

One thing that I have learned is that you have to make smart investments in people if you want a strong community and successful community members. Ben & Jerry’s has a commitment to paying our workers a livable wage and paying our suppliers a premium price for high-quality ingredients. We don’t do this only to make awesome ice cream, but also to ensure that the people who work with us have good lives and can reach their full potential.

I often hear people say that government should be more like business. I agree. Every business person knows that if you want good results, you have to make smart investments. You have to identify where you need to put your resources to be effective and successful. You have to invest not only in the business, but also in the people who work in the business if you are going to create a good product.

I have never understood why people take the opposite stance when it comes to the government. We all want the government to deliver a good product – whether it is programs for those who need a little help or infrastructure to keep our businesses strong. Yet, we sometimes forget that in order to get these good products, we need to make those smart investments.

When times are tough, it makes sense to step back and assess whether there are corners we can cut for a short time. We must always be ready to shift away from austerity as soon as possible, though, because austerity never leads to prosperity. You might be able to get by for a while playing Scrooge, but you won’t thrive, and neither will anyone else around you. We all know that in the end Scrooge learned that the best way to enjoy the value of his money was to invest it in the people who worked for him and lived in his community.

I love Vermont, and I want Vermont to be the best we can be. When we as a state hold ourselves to a high standard and make the investments that will lead to success, then we will reap the rewards of those investments – our children will grow up happy and strong, our elderly will age with dignity, our businesses will thrive, and our communities will prosper. The Legislature is making budget and tax decisions now that will set the course for our future. I hope our policymakers will be bold and be businesslike, and make those smart investments in people and infrastructure that we need so that we can all prosper together.