Growing a ‘Startup Ecosystem’ on Two Wheels

Broadcast on Vermont Public Radio

Riders mostly stay together en route between pitch stops, sharing experiences like getting caught in the rain, noticing great swimming holes or enjoying the twists and turns of Vermont’s hills. Photo by Hilary Niles

It’s becoming tradition in Vermont: The first week of August, riders tour through the most promising hubs in the state, stopping twice a day to get pitched by budding businesses looking for money, advice and connections. The riders — about 45 this year — are looking to invest, help out, have fun, and stay out of the rain.

Event organizer Cairn Cross says the Road Pitch, as it’s called, is a form of economic development for which the private sector is uniquely positioned.

“I personally believe that one of the problems with public sector economic development … is we tend to think of hierarchies,” Cross says. “‘How do we have a one-stop shop where everybody goes and they know exactly where to go to get all the resources?’ And the reality is, you don’t. In part because in a good entrepreneurial economy, new resources are popping up all the time.”

Cairn Cross says his goal in encouraging a “startup ecosystem” is to create opportunities for people with resources to interact with people who need them.

“If you connect those resources together over time, things will happen,” he says.

But the long gestation period inherent in this approach, the riskiness of startups and the disruptive potential of entrepreneurialism — these can be hard sells for politicians and public officials with multiple constituencies to answer to, with taxpayers dollars to be accountable for, with results to show to for the next election.

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Dana Wilkinson, of clothing line Dirty Old Biker, and James Lockridge, of the music-centered nonprofit Big Heavy World, chat after a picnic dinner at Bennington College. Photo by Hilary Niles

Lagging Health Insurance Exchange Glitches Leave Major Medicaid Improvements in Limbo

Broadcast on Vermont Public Radio

More than a third of Vermont’s population is enrolled in Medicaid. Their health care claims every year number in the millions, and those claims add up to well over $1 billion — on par with the size of Vermont’s General Fund, or even bigger.

But, like a lot of the state government’s technology, the IT system the Medicaid program runs on is really old: 30 years old.

It still works, but not very efficiently. Reports on those millions of Medicaid claims are vulnerable to human error, and producing them is time-consuming. So, the Medicaid Management Information System, or MMIS, is inefficient by modern standards.

It also doesn’t allow the state Medicaid office to be as effective as it could be in managing care for the roughly 225,000 adults and children enrolled in the program.

The IT upgrade intended for the Medicaid system already had faced years of delays before Vermont’s health insurance exchange effectively crashed straight out of the gate in 2014. And still the years add up.

Efforts to get back on track with Vermont Health Connect after its faulty rollout are consuming so much of the state’s resources that all other big health-related IT projects are on hold. That’s despite federal pressure to get them done.

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Huge Money, Small Oversight: State IT Spending In Vermont

$1 Billion+ ... The most accurate available information shows that the state could spend this amount on IT projects over the next five years.
$1 Billion+ ... The most accurate available information shows that the state could spend this amount on IT projects over the next five years.
Illustration: Amanda Shepard/VPR. Data source: Vermont Department of Information and Innovation.

story by Taylor Dobbs, data by Hilary Niles / Vermont Public Radio

The use of technology in Vermont state government went from a background concern to a political flashpoint throughout the troubled rollout of Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance exchange. None of the state’s IT projects receive the same level of public scrutiny, but information technology in state government is ubiquitous and makes up a significant — yet unknown — portion of the state’s budget every year.

A Vermont Public Radio investigation has found that it’s nearly impossible for Vermonters to know how much of their tax money goes toward IT operations in the state, how successful IT projects are in meeting state needs, or how well state agencies follow defined protocols for state contracts.

Using available records, interviews and dozens of documents released in response to multiple records requests, VPR built a comprehensive data base of IT projects across state government. The documents and interviews showed:

  • Despite efforts to improve transparency, there is no way for state officials or the public to track the total amount of money spent by the state government on information technology. The most accurate available information shows that the state could spend nearly $1 billion or more on IT projects over the next five years.
  • The state has increased oversight for IT projects in recent years, allowing the Department of Information and Innovation (DII) to monitor and even cancel projects from the time a department launches the procurement process to the finished product.
  • Although increased oversight provides more opportunities for DII officials to identify problems with an IT project, there’s still no way to know how successful these projects are in meeting their stated goals.
  • Specific protocols for state purchasing have been in place since 2008. Yet the state agencies tasked with ensuring those protocols are followed have never used their authority to audit compliance, making it difficult to know if agencies are following best practices as defined by the state itself.

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Rep. Korman introduces house bill to redefine ‘renewable energy’

147 words / KBIA 91.3 FM

This day-turn news brief was written for radio and read on-air. 

COLUMBIA — State Representative Bart Korman has sponsored a bill to reclassify electricity generated at any sized hydroelectric plant as renewable.

Rep. Bart Korman, High Hill, Mo.
Rep. Bart Korman, High Hill, Mo.

Under current standards, only hydro-electric power produced at small plants qualifies as renewable. The change could matter to the state’s power companies, which must ramp up their renewable energy sourcing from two percent to fifteen percent in the next eight years.

Korman – a Republican from High Hill – says that’s an unrealistic goal.

“We don’t have very much renewable energy out there. To get to a 15 percent by 2021, we’re going to have to do a few things, or purchase renewable energy credits,” Korman says.

But changing the definition of “renewable” doesn’t achieve the goal of the standards, according to P.J. Wilson, head of the nonprofit Renew Missouri. The organization is fighting the bill. Korman says it may come before the full House for a vote next week.

Night Shift: Midnight Country

“Not just radio. Community radio,” they say at KOPN, where volunteers have been keeping the frequency live since March 3, 1973.

Part music and part talk, the station’s programming is diverse and sometimes controversial. There’s a waiting list for new DJs, whose first chance to get on the air is often in the middle of the night.

radiostation(audio)

Woody Adkins, 48, started “Midnight Country” in 2000.

He’ll play some current country music — but only if it sounds traditional.


Farming in the U.S.A.

red barn behind a colorful field in summer
Brookford Farm got its start in an old family farm in Rollinsford, N.H., in 2007.

Public radio feature / 14:15 minutes / Here and Now, produced at WBUR in Boston, Mass., and broadcast nationwide on April 22, 2009 / I conceived and produced this double-segment for host Robin Young. 

Farming

More than ever, women and minorities are running the country’s farms, “boutique” farming is a hot trend, and farmers’ markets continue to grow and multiply. We speak with Carol House of the National Agricultural Statistics Service about the latest numbers in farming, and we check in with Jon Satz, who runs Woods Market Garden in Brandon, Vermont.

Rabies? Rabies! Rabies.

Public radio feature / 15:55 minutes / Here and Now, produced at WBUR in Boston, Mass., and broadcast nationwide 

It’s rabies season, and strange things happen. We hear a cautionary tale from Arizona runner Michelle Felicetta, who survived a fox attack last fall, and we speak with Dr. Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies program at the Centers for Disease Control.

[audio:http://nilesmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Rabies-Season.mp3]

As a part-time production intern at Here and Now, I was responsible for generating and pitching story ideas, sourcing interview subjects, pre-reporting for the host, facilitating and editing the interview, and packaging the piece for our daily live broadcast.

Financial Literacy for Kids

Public radio feature / 3:51 minutes / Here and Now, produced at WBUR in Boston, Mass., and broadcast nationwide

Public school students in Tennessee don’t just learn how to balance a checkbook, but how to plan for retirement and negotiate a car payment, too. Les Greer, who teaches at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, joins us to review a lesson plan.

[audio:http://nilesmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Financial-Literacy-for-Kids.mp3]

As a part-time production intern at Here and Now, I was responsible for generating and pitching story ideas, sourcing interview subjects, pre-reporting for the host, facilitating and editing the interview, and packaging the piece for our daily live broadcast.

The High Cost of Corrections

Public radio feature / 8:27 minutes / Here and Now, produced at WBUR in Boston, Mass., and broadcast nationwide

The cost of corrections continues to climb while revenues shrink. Michael Thompson of the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments offers solutions to the challenges many states face.

[audio:http://nilesmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/2009.03.Corrections.mp3]

As a part-time production intern at Here and Now, I was responsible for generating and pitching story ideas, sourcing interview subjects, pre-reporting for the host, facilitating and editing the interview, and packaging the piece for our daily live broadcast.