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Q Empire: The man behind the Northeast Kingdom’s biggest plan

3332 words / VTDigger.org

Ariel Quiros is the entrepreneurial force behind Jay Peak ski resort and the $600 million Northeast Kingdom Economic Development Initiative – one of the largest development projects ever attempted in Vermont.

Though the project is high profile, Quiros is not. The international tycoon, though sometimes seen, is seldom heard.

The first generation American stands out at press conferences for his mystique: When he’s not got the ear of the governor, Quiros is most often seen standing uncomfortably before a crowd with pursed lips, staring silently and expressionless, at nothing in particular, through ice blue eyes.

Quiros quietly presides over an integrated set of projects that together constitute the largest private investment Vermont has ever seen: expansions at Jay Peak, development of the newly renamed Q Burke Mountain ski area, the mixed use Renaissance Block planned for downtown Newport, the future site of a biotech firm in the same town, and the promise of a new and improved Newport State Airport in Coventry.

“I make the vision,” he says quietly, a touch of gravel in his voice after 20-plus years of smoking.

Community fears history will repeat itself at Q Burke Mountain

3310 words / VTDigger.org

It’s the day before Q Burke Mountain opens for the winter, and Ary Quiros could just as well be preparing for battle as for business.

The new CEO is opening the ski resort for the first time since he started at the mountain the previous winter, and he’s amped. If Quiros, 36, can turn this chronically failing but beloved ski area into a stable business, he will succeed where prior, much wealthier, owners have failed.

The arc of history and local expectations give him long odds. But Quiros — and his staff — are determined.

Wearing a weathered, Army green jacket and frequently checking a watch face practically the size of his wrist, Quiros shuttles from one outpost of operations to another to check on his troops: snowmaking, ticket sales, kitchen, pub and cafeteria. Finances. Marketing. Housecleaning.

“It’s like being in the Army again,” Quiros says.

5-cent education property tax increase needed

801 words / VTDigger.org

Statewide base property tax rates might increase again — by a nickel in 2015 — to meet the rising cost of education. But in recommending the rate bump, Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson also suggests looking for a way to get schools to curb spending.

User’s guide to Vermont Health Connect

Reporting by Andrew Stein, data visualizations by Hilary Niles / VTDigger.org

Three interactive information graphics produced to accompany a user’s guide to the new state healthcare exchange in Vermont.

Unfunded health care obligations threaten teacher pensions

916 words / VTDigger.org

State Treasurer Beth Pearce might soon run out of metaphors for the chronic funding shortfall in Vermont’s teacher retirement system.

It’s a “monster,” she told the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. “It’s at a tipping point,” she said. It’s like a credit card that charges 18 percent interest, when a 2 percent deal sits idle on your desk. “It’s taking the wind out of the sails of (the pension system’s) recovery.”

State announces ‘open data’ pilot project

1220 words / VTDigger.org

As Vermont’s state government takes its first baby step into the giant world of open data, the state’s civic hackers are lining up to help.

Harry Bell of Vermont’s Department of Information and Innovation announced Tuesday that the state would be stepping out of its website shell and into the “open data” movement — a growing international trend toward making government data more available to the public.

A post-mortem of Menck Windows’ Northeast Kingdom EB-5 Project

Business feature reporting the cancellation of a $20 million immigrant-funded development in Newport, Vt. / 1420 words / VTDigger.org

More than a year in the making, plans to bring German window manufacturer Menck to Newport, Vt., have fallen through.

Developer Bill Stenger said the parent company’s new equipment requirements would cut into the plant’s job creation projections. It turns out slow sales projections and facility constraints also played a role.

Menck still is moving forward to establish itself in North America: but not in Vermont, and not with funding from federal “EB-5” immigrant investments.

Job creation and generally boosting economic activity is the program’s stated goal — and also, in Menck’s case, the hitch.

Unemployment Trust Fund tapped for fraction of potential relief

2276 words / VTDigger.org

Vermont legislators agreed in May to offer up to $8.67 million in refunds and discounts to businesses that laid off workers in the wake of 2011′s disastrous floods.

But only 75 employers, among the untold eligible businesses hailing from every county in the state, applied for the unemployment insurance relief. Instead of giving breaks for a “worst-case” scenario of 11,247 layoffs, the state forgave at least partial charges on just 299.

On their July 1 unemployment insurance bills, 54 businesses accepted $264,178.53 in refunds.

“Really, that’s all? Wow,” said Steve Moyer, CFO of Woodstock Farmers’ Market.

Federal reforms pushing flood insurance rates ever higher

1199 words / VTDigger.org

When it comes to flood insurance in Vermont, it’s federal reforms that worry Susan Donegan.

“You can debate global warming,” Donegan said, “but you can’t deny that we’re having more severe and more frequent severe storms.” Known as BW-12, the Biggert-Watters Act was crafted to address that reality and shore up federal flood insurance in its wake.

Donegan doesn’t argue the intention, but she’s concerned about what its drastic changes will mean for Vermont property owners.