Burlington, Vermont: Land of ice cream, skiing, and ... tech?

Burlington's city hall building.

Last month, Marketplace launched a project with The Atlantic’s Jim Fallows, and his wife Deb called American Futures. It’s a look at how the real economy works, town by town, state by state.

The Fallows are flying their small Cirrus airplane across the country. Their last stop was Burlington, Vt. Home of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a plethora of winter sports … and a thriving tech sector.

Fallows says it turns out, “there was an IBM plant, near Burlington, started in the 1960s and people who originally moved there to work at IBM, their descendants, their friends, have stayed to create a little tech empire.”

A lot of them work at a company called Renewable NRG Systems making machinery and software for the wind power industry, much of it manufactured in Burlington or nearby as well.

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Another company is called Dealer.com. It makes the software used by auto dealers to price vehicles.

"They even are going to put out an app soon that’s supposed to take the place of that horrible stage in the car dealership where the dealer writes down a number and says he’s going to go check with a manager," says Fallows.

When the tech industry in Burlington tries to recruit, it does it differently than Silicon Valley. Companies there have "found a way to sort of screen early people who had some sort of connection to Vermont who thought this would be a good place to live their lives."

And if those future employees like beer, a move to Burlington probably isn't too hard a sale. In Burlington, you can buy a beer called "Heady Topper."

"There’ s a kind of magical unicorn quality to Heady Topper. Anybody who’s interested in beer has known about this for a long time but also not had it," says Fallows. "The stores where they authorize sales of these things, they have little posters in the window saying 'our Heady Topper arrives Wednesday at 1 p.m.' and loyalists know, if you get there after 2:30, it’s gone."

Burlington's found a way to thrive even in a difficult environment.

"It’s in the mountains of Vermont and so they had to find a way to create an economy there without those advantages of transportation or much farmland really," says Fallows.


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About the author

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic.

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