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Exports, Electric Cars And Wood Stoves: VPR Asks 'Did It Work?'

The Did It Work? logo in white text on a blue background with the VPR logo in the corner
Meg Malone
/
VPR

This week on All Things Considered, VPR host and reporter Henry Epp has been exploring a singular question about publicly-funded programs in Vermont, both big and small: "Did it work?"

The weeklong series follows up on a handful of initiatives over the past few years and looks how much bang — if any — Vermonters got for their buck.

The idea "came from being a reporter over many years, and going to different press events where something was launched by government officials ... and then often we don't hear much about it, you know, later on," Epp told Vermont Edition. "

That led him to ask the question that gave the series its name.

"Really, it was just asking the question: What happened down the line? Did these programs work?" Epp said.

Some amount of public money had to be at stake with these projects, Epp explained, and they had to have enough time — usually at least a year — to see if they panned out.

Some projects were small, like the $25,000 federal grant used to get Westminster farmer Paul Harlow into the Boston Public Market. The idea was to showcase Vermont produce and agritourism.

So, did it work? VPR reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman found the state deemed the endeavor a success — but Harlow saw it differently. 

"It is a disaster, to tell you the truth," Harlow told VPR. "I wish we hadn't done it."

The farmer estimates he lost $200,000 from the project, but Epp said the state saw "some more intangible benefits" related to tourism.

Read More: 'Did It Work?': State-Sponsored Vermont Food Stall At Boston Public Market

Epp said similar hindsight was common among the other projects explored in the series.

"In almost every one of these cases, there is someone who will say, 'Yes, OK, so the numbers didn't add up exactly to a goal, but you know, here are some ways that it had some benefit, some positive benefit, to the state,'" Epp said.

"So, you know, we tried to land a lot of times sort of in a nuanced middle-place, but a lot of times when you come down to the numbers, it just didn't add up," he added.

As far as possible future installments of this series, Epp said he's interested to know what projects listeners would like VPR to follow up on.

Read more from the "Did It Work?" series:

Broadcast live on Thursday, May 16, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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