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    Why the Panama Canal Didn’t Lose Money When Ship Crossings Fell

    A water shortage forced officials to reduce traffic, but higher fees increased revenue.Low water levels have forced officials to slash the number of ships that are allowed through the Panama Canal, disrupting global supply chains and pushing up transportation costs.But, remarkably, the big drop in ship traffic has not — at least so far — led to a financial crunch for the canal, which passes on much of its toll revenue to Panama’s government.That’s because the canal authority introduced hefty increases in tolls before the water crisis started. In addition, shipping companies have been willing to pay large sums in special auctions to secure one of the reduced number of crossings.In the 12 months through September, the canal’s revenue rose 15 percent, to nearly $5 billion, even though the tonnage shipped through the canal fell 1.5 percent.The Panama Canal Authority declined to say how much money it earned from auctions. At a maritime conference last week in Stamford, Conn., Ilya Espino de Marotta, the canal’s deputy administrator, said the auction fees, which reached as much as $4 million per passage last year, “helped a little bit.”But even now, during a quieter season for global shipping, auction fees can double the cost of using the canal. This month, Avance Gas, which ships liquefied petroleum gas, paid a $401,000 auction fee and $400,000 for the regular toll, said Oystein Kalleklev, the company’s chief executive. Auction fees are ultimately borne by the company whose goods are being shipped.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    U.S. Awards $1.5 Billion to Chipmaker GlobalFoundries

    The grant will go toward chips for the auto and defense industries, and is the largest award to date from $39 billion in government funding.The Biden administration on Monday announced a $1.5 billion award to the New York-based chipmaker GlobalFoundries, one of the first sizable grants from a government program aimed at revitalizing semiconductor manufacturing in the United States.As part of the plan to bolster GlobalFoundries, the administration will also make available another $1.6 billion in federal loans. The grants are expected to triple the company’s production capacity in the state of New York over ten years.The funding represents an effort by the Biden administration and lawmakers of both parties to try to revitalize American semiconductor manufacturing. Currently, just 12 percent of chips are made in the United States, with the bulk manufactured in Asia. America’s reliance on foreign sources of chips became an issue in the early part of the pandemic, when automakers and other manufacturers had to delay or shutter production amid a dearth of critical chips.The award to GlobalFoundries will help the firm expand its existing facility in Malta, N.Y., enabling it to fulfill a contract with General Motors to ensure dedicated chip production for its cars.It will also help GlobalFoundries build a new facility to manufacture critical chips that are not currently being made in the United States. That includes a new class of semiconductors suited for use in satellites because they can survive high doses of radiation.The money will also be used to upgrade the company’s operations in Vermont, creating the first U.S. facility capable of producing a kind of chip used in electric vehicles, the power grid, and 5G and 6G smartphones. If not for the investment, administration officials said the facility in Vermont would have faced closure.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    U.S. Awards Chip Supplier $162 Million to Bolster Critical Industries

    The Biden administration said its second grant under a new program would help Microchip Technology expand its facilities in Oregon and Colorado.The Biden administration on Thursday announced plans to provide $162 million in federal grants to Microchip Technology, an Arizona-based semiconductor company that supplies the automotive, defense and other industries.The agreement is the second award announced under a new program intended to help ensure that American companies that rely on semiconductors have a stable supply. Last month, the Biden administration announced a $35 million grant for BAE Systems, a defense contractor.The investment will enable Microchip to increase its production of semiconductors that are used in cars, airplanes, appliances, medical devices and military products. The administration said it expected the award to create more than 700 jobs in construction and manufacturing.“Today’s announcement with Microchip is a meaningful step in our efforts to bolster the supply chain for legacy semiconductors that are in everything from cars to washing machines to missiles,” Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo said in a statement.Microchip plans to use $90 million to modernize and expand a facility in Colorado Springs and $72 million to expand a facility in Gresham, Ore. The administration said the funding would help Microchip triple its output at the two sites and decrease the company’s reliance on foreign facilities to help make its products.The company’s chips aren’t cutting-edge but are key components of nearly every military and space program. Microchip is one of the largest suppliers of semiconductors to the defense industrial base and a designated trusted foundry for the military. It also plays a crucial role in industries that are important for the national economy, U.S. officials said.That role became more obvious during the pandemic, when a global chip shortage cast a spotlight on domestic suppliers like Microchip. With foreign chip factories shut down to help contain the virus, automakers and other companies scrambled to secure supplies. As a result, demand for Microchip’s products surged.Those shortages also helped motivate lawmakers to pull together a funding bill aimed at shoring up American manufacturing and reduce reliance on foreign chips. The 2022 CHIPS and Science Act gave the Commerce Department $53 billion to invest in the semiconductor industry, including $39 billion for federal grants to encourage chip companies to set up U.S. facilities.The Commerce Department is expected to begin announcing larger awards in the coming months for major chip fabrication facilities owned by companies like Intel and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, known as TSMC.Microchip previously announced plans to increase its capacity in both Oregon and Colorado, but the government funding would be used to expand those enhancements and bring more production back to the United States, officials said. According to its filings, Microchip relies on outside facilities to make a significant proportion of its products — roughly 63 percent of its net sales in 2023 — a relatively common practice in the industry.While attention has focused on ensuring that U.S. facilities can manufacture some of the world’s most advanced chips, there are growing concerns about Chinese investments in less advanced semiconductors, also known as legacy chips, which help power cars, computers, missiles and dishwashers.U.S. officials are questioning whether such investments could increase the United States’ reliance on China or allow Chinese firms to undercut competitors. The Commerce Department has said it plans to begin a survey this month to identify how U.S. companies are getting their legacy chips and reduce security risks linked to China.The deal announced Thursday is a nonbinding preliminary agreement. The Commerce Department will carry out due diligence on the project before reaching the award’s final terms.The department said it had received more than 570 statements of interest and more than 170 pre-applications, full applications and concept plans from companies and organizations interested in the funding.Don Clark More

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    Auto Sales Are Expected to Slow After a Strong 2023

    Automakers sold more cars in 2023 than a year ago as supply chain chaos ended, but sales are now under pressure from higher interest rates.After enjoying a strong rebound in sales in 2023, the auto industry appears headed for slower growth this year as consumers struggle with elevated interest rates and high prices for new cars and light trucks.Edmunds, a market researcher, expects the industry to sell 15.7 million vehicles this year. That would amount to a modest increase from the 15.5 million sold last year, when sales jumped 12 percent.“There’s definitely pent-up demand out there, because people have been holding off purchases for a while,” said Jessica Caldwell, head of insights at Edmunds. “But given the credit situation, we don’t think the industry will see a ton of growth this year.”Since the coronavirus pandemic, automakers have struggled with shortages of critical parts that have prevented them from producing as many vehicles as consumers wanted to buy. In 2023, the shortages, especially for computer chips, finally eased, allowing production to return to more normal levels.But over the past year, the Federal Reserve has significantly raised interest rates, which has pushed up costs considerably for car buyers.For years, many people took advantage of zero-percent loans to buy vehicles, even as prices climbed. But such deals, offered by automakers to move inventory, have nearly disappeared in the wake of the Fed’s rate hikes. In the fourth quarter of 2023, new-vehicle sales with zero-percent financing accounted for just 2.3 percent of all sales, according to Edmunds.Monthly payments are at near-record highs. In the fourth quarter, the average monthly payment on new cars was $739, up from $717 in the same period a year ago.Several automakers were hoping that a rapid rise in sales of new electric vehicles would drive the industry to gains into 2024 and 2025, but those cars and trucks haven’t taken off quite as quickly as many analysts and executives had hoped.In 2023, sales of battery-powered models in the United States topped one million vehicles for the first time, and Cox Automotive, another research firm, expects sales to reach 1.5 million this year. But General Motors, Ford Motor, Volkswagen and other manufacturers had been expecting an even faster ramp-up.But consumers have balked at the high prices of many of the newest electric models. Many drivers are also reluctant to make the switch to battery power, because they are not sure they will be able to find enough places to quickly refuel. That has forced automakers to reset their plans.G.M. had once forecast it would produce 400,000 electric vehicles by the middle of 2024 but now has given up that target, and it has delayed the production of some electric models.Ford had been aiming to have enough factory capacity by the end of 2024 to make 600,000 battery-powered vehicles a year, but it recently lowered production plans for its electric F-150 Lightning and its electric sport-utility vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E.On Wednesday, G.M. said that its sales of new vehicles in the United States jumped 14 percent last year. The company sold 2.6 million cars and light trucks in 2023, up from 2.3 million in 2022, when the chip shortage limited production.G.M. sold about 76,000 electric vehicles, up from 39,000 in 2022. But most were Chevrolet Bolts, a model that the company recently stopped making. Only about 13,000 were vehicle based on newer battery technology that G.M. had been hoping would make its electric vehicles affordable to many more car buyers.Sales for G.M. in the fourth quarter were relatively weak. They climbed just 0.3 percent from the same period a year earlier and were down 7 percent compared with the third quarter of 2023. The company said the sales of several important models were limited by a strike at some of its plants by the United Automobile Workers union.Separately, Toyota Motor, the second largest seller of cars in the United States after G.M., said its 2023 sales rose 7 percent, to 2.2 million vehicles. The company’s sales in the fourth quarter were 15.4 percent higher than in the same quarter a year ago and about 5 percent higher than in the third quarter.Stellantis, the maker of Chrysler, Ram and Jeep vehicles, said that it sold 1.5 million cars and trucks in 2023, about 1 percent less than the year before. The company plans to introduce eight new electric vehicles this year, and it aims to have battery-powered models account for half of its North American sales by the end of the decade.Honda, Hyundai and Kia also on Wednesday reported strong U.S. sales for 2023 And on Tuesday, Tesla, which dominates the electric car business in the United States, said it sold 1.8 million cars worldwide last year, up 38 percent from 2022.Ford is expected to report its sales total on Thursday. More

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    Biden Administration Chooses Military Supplier for First CHIPS Act Grant

    The award, which will go to BAE Systems, is part of a new government program aimed at creating a more secure supply of semiconductors.The Biden administration will announce on Monday that BAE Systems, a defense contractor, will receive the first federal grant from a new program aimed at shoring up American manufacturing of critical semiconductors.The company is expected to receive a $35 million grant to quadruple its domestic production of a type of chip used in F-15 and F-35 fighter jets, administration officials said. The grant is intended to help ensure a more secure supply of a component that is critical for the United States and its allies.The award is the first of several expected in the coming months, as the Commerce Department begins distributing the $39 billion in federal funding that Congress authorized under the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act. The money is intended to incentivize the construction of chip factories in the United States and lure back a key type of manufacturing that has slipped offshore in recent decades.Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said on Sunday that the decision to select a defense contractor for the first award, rather than a commercial semiconductor facility, was meant to emphasize the administration’s focus on national security.“We can’t gamble with our national security by depending solely on one part of the world or even one country for crucial advanced technologies,” she said.Semiconductors originated in the United States, but the country now manufactures only about one-tenth of chips made globally. While American chip companies still design the world’s most cutting-edge products, much of the world’s manufacturing has migrated to Asia in recent decades as companies sought lower costs.Chips power not only computers and cars but also missiles, satellites and fighter jets, which has prompted officials in Washington to consider the lack of domestic manufacturing capacity a serious national security vulnerability.A global shortage of chips during the pandemic shuttered car factories and dented the U.S. economy, highlighting the risks of supply chains that are outside of America’s control. The chip industry’s incredible reliance on Taiwan, a geopolitical flashpoint, is also considered an untenable security threat given that China sees the island as a breakaway part of its territory and has talked of reclaiming it.The BAE chips that the program would help fund are produced in the United States, but administration officials said the money would allow the company to upgrade aging machinery that poses a risk to the facility’s continuing operations. Like other grants under the program, the funding would be doled out to the company over time, after the Commerce Department carries out due diligence on the project and as the company reaches certain milestones.“When we talk about supply chain resilience, this investment is about shoring up that resilience and ensuring that the chips are delivered when our military needs them,” said Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser.BAE, partly through operations purchased from Lockheed Martin, specializes in chips called monolithic microwave integrated circuits that generate high-frequency radio signals and are used in electronic warfare and aircraft-to-aircraft communications.The award will be formally announced at the company’s Nashua, N.H., factory on Monday. The facility is part of the Pentagon’s “trusted foundry” program, which fabricates chips for defense-related needs under tight security restrictions.In the coming months, the Biden administration is expected to announce much larger grants for major semiconductor manufacturing facilities run by companies like Intel, Samsung or Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, known as TSMC.Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Ms. Raimondo said the grant was “the first of many announcements” and that the pace of those awards would accelerate in the first half of next year.The Biden administration is hoping to create a thriving chip industry in the United States, which would encompass the industry’s most cutting-edge manufacturing and research, as well as factories pumping out older types of chips and various types of suppliers to make the chemicals and other raw materials that chip facilities need.Part of the program’s focus has been establishing a secure source of chips to feed into products needed by the American military. The supply chains that feed into weapons systems, fighter jets and other technology are opaque and complex. Chip industry executives say that some military contractors have surprisingly little understanding of where some of the semiconductors in their products come from. At least some of the chip supply chains that feed into American military goods run through China, where companies manufacture and test semiconductors.Since Mr. Biden signed the CHIPS act into law, companies have announced plans to invest more than $160 billion in new U.S. manufacturing facilities in hopes of winning some portion of the federal money. The law also offers a 25 percent tax credit for funds that chip companies spend on new U.S. factories.The funding will be a test of the Biden administration’s industrial policy and its ability to pick the most viable projects while ensuring that taxpayer money is not wasted. The Commerce Department has spun up a special team of roughly 200 people who are now reviewing company applications for the funds.Tech experts expect the law to help reverse a three-decade-long decline in the U.S. share of global chip manufacturing, but it remains uncertain just how much of the industry the program can reclaim.While the amount of money available under the new law is large in historical proportions, it could go fast. Chip factories are packed with some of the world’s most advanced machinery and are thus incredibly expensive, with the most advanced facilities costing tens of billions of dollars each.Industry executives say the cost of operating a chip factory and paying workers in the United States is higher than many other parts of the world. East Asian countries are still offering lucrative subsidies for new chip facilities, as well as a large supply of skilled engineers and technicians.Chris Miller, a professor of Tufts University who is the author of “Chip War,” a history of the industry, said there was “clear evidence” of a major increase in investment across the semiconductor supply chain in the United States as a result of the law.“I think the huge question that remains is how enduring will these investments be over time,” he said. “Are they one-offs or will they be followed by second and third rounds for the companies involved?”Don Clark More

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    Sharp Drop in Airfares Cheers Inflation-Weary Travelers

    Airfares to many popular destinations have recently fallen to their lowest levels in months, and even holiday travel is far cheaper than it was last year, providing some welcome relief to consumers who have been frustrated for months by high prices for all manner of goods and services.The glut of deals suggests that the airline industry’s supercharged pandemic recovery may finally be slowing as the supply of tickets catches up and, on some routes, overtakes demand, which appears relatively robust.Consider the fares that Denise Diorio, a retired teacher in Tampa, Fla., recently scored. She spent less than $40 on flights to and from Chicago and paid just $230 for a round-trip ticket from New York to Paris and back, a trip she plans to take this month.“I’ve been telling all my friends, ‘If you want to go somewhere, get your tickets now,’” she said.The bargains she found may be exceptional, but Ms. Diorio is right that deals abound.Early this month, the average price for a domestic flight around Thanksgiving was down about 9 percent from a year ago. And flights around Christmas were about 18 percent cheaper, according to Hopper, a booking and price-tracking app. Kayak, the travel search engine, looked at a wider range of dates around the holidays and found that domestic flight prices were down about 18 percent around Thanksgiving and 23 percent around Christmas.“In a lot of cases, we’re seeing some of the lowest fares that we’ve seen really since travel started coming back after the drop-off in 2020,” said Kyle Potter, executive editor of Thrifty Traveler, a travel blog and deal-watching service.Domestic ticket prices fell over the summer, Mr. Potter said, and deals on international travel, particularly to Europe, have become more common recently.Airlines lower their fares when they are trying to get more people to book tickets as demand is slowing or they are facing stiffer competition. There’s little question that competition has intensified on some routes, but travel experts say it’s not clear whether demand is waning.Thanksgiving this year is expected to set a record for air travel, with nearly 30 million passengers forecast, according to Airlines for America, an industry group. That would be about 9 percent more than last year and 6 percent more than in 2019, before the pandemic.But some airlines say demand is slowing outside of holiday and other peak travel periods. In addition, some airports have been so flooded with flights that carriers have been forced to cut fares to fill planes.That hadn’t been much of a problem for most of the recovery from the pandemic. Weather and other disruptions limited the supply of flights last year and in 2021, as did shortages of trained pilots, parts and planes, among other factors. That drove up ticket prices, kept planes full and helped airlines take in strong profits.Thanksgiving this year is expected to set a record for air travel, with nearly 30 million passengers anticipated.Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times“The airline industry has never delivered the types of profit margins and return on capital that it has done over the last 2.5 years,” said John Grant, chief analyst with OAG, an aviation advisory and data firm. “We’re getting back to a more normal industry.”For the largest U.S. airlines, the good times have continued, fueled in particular by thriving demand for international travel. But smaller and low-fare carriers have started to suffer. Several reported disappointing financial results for the three months that ended in September. Executives at those airlines have said demand is weakening, fares are falling and costs remain high. They also say bad weather and a shortage of air traffic controllers have made flying more difficult.JetBlue Airways, for example, lost $153 million in the third quarter, compared with a $57 million profit in the same period last year. The company said recently that it was moving flights away from crowded markets, such as New York, to those where it expected stronger performance, such as the Caribbean. The budget carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines recently told investors that they were looking to cut costs by tens of millions of dollars.Competition has been fierce in some important markets, driving down fares and profits.In Denver, where Frontier is based, about 14 percent more seats were available on flights this summer than in the summer of 2019, according to Cirium, an aviation data provider. Miami and Orlando, Fla., two popular destinations served by many budget carriers, saw even larger increases in capacity.But while airlines added flights in popular markets as they chased passengers, airports in other cities, including Los Angeles, a hub for several major airlines, had large declines in capacity from the summer of 2019.“You’ll find that there’s a large correlation between the airlines that are doing well and the ones that are struggling, margin-wise, when you compare where their concentrations are,” Barry Biffle, Frontier’s chief executive, said last month on a conference call to discuss the airline’s third-quarter results.When it comes to international routes, analysts are less certain of why fares are falling and whether they will remain low. The kinds of deals that Ms. Diorio got for her Paris trip could mean that larger airlines soon find themselves facing a financial squeeze or merely that the industry is returning to a prepandemic normal.“Historically, demand to Europe softens in the winter,” said Steve Hafner, Kayak’s chief executive. “So I think that reflects normal trends.”But demand for international travel could face challenges, partly because of the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine. Analysts also warn that many consumers may be less willing or able to splurge on travel than they were in the last couple of years, when they had pandemic savings to draw from. Even if demand remains strong, airlines risk offering too many seats on popular overseas routes.Whatever the cause of the recent drop in fares, the deals are a welcome break to travelers from years of high prices, Mr. Potter said.“Either way the recipe is there for cheap flights,” he said. “If it’s just a little bit of overcapacity, that’s a win for consumers. If travel demand is dropping, in some ways that’s an even bigger win for people who are never going to give up on travel.” More

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    Vermont May Be the Face of a Long-Term U.S. Labor Shortage

    At Lake Champlain Chocolates, the owners take shifts stacking boxes in the warehouse. At Burlington Bagel Bakery, a sign in the window advertises wages starting at $25 an hour. Central Vermont Medical Center is training administrative employees to become nurses. Cabot Creamery is bringing workers from out of state to package its signature blocks of Cheddar cheese.The root of the staffing challenge is simple: Vermont’s population is rapidly aging. More than a fifth of Vermonters are 65 or older, and more than 35 percent are over 54, the age at which Americans typically begin to exit the work force. No state has a smaller share of its residents in their prime working years.Vermont offers an early look at where the rest of the country could be headed. The baby boom population is aging out of the work force, and subsequent generations aren’t large enough to fully replace it. Immigration slumped during the pandemic, and though it has since rebounded, it is unclear how long that will last, given a lack of broad political support for higher immigration. Birthrates are falling.“All of these things point in the direction of prolonged labor scarcity,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied long-term work force trends.Eric Lampman, right, the president and co-owner of Lake Champlain Chocolates, has revamped its production schedule to reduce its reliance on seasonal help.Lockers at Lake Champlain Chocolates. While other states have helped buttress their work forces through immigration, Vermont’s foreign-born population has remained small.Vermont’s unemployment rate was 1.9 percent in September, among the lowest in the country, and the labor force is still thousands of people smaller than before the pandemic. Employers are fighting over scarce workers, offering wage increases, signing bonuses and child care subsidies, alongside enticements such as free ski passes. When those tactics fail, many are limiting operating hours and scaling back product offerings.A rural state — Burlington, with a population under 45,000, is the smallest “biggest city” in the country — Vermont has for decades seen young people leave for better opportunities. And while other states have helped buttress their work forces through immigration, Vermont’s foreign-born population has remained small.But demographics are at the root of the problem.“We knew where we were headed — we just maybe got there a little bit quicker than we were expecting,” said Michael Harrington, the state’s labor commissioner. “There just aren’t enough Vermonters to meet the needs of our state and our employers in the future.”Gray Mountain StateA disproportionate share of Vermonters are in or near their retirement years. But the overall U.S. population is also aging.

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    Percentage of 2022 population by age group
    Source: Census BureauBy The New York TimesThere were similar shortages across the country in 2021 and 2022, as demand — for both goods and workers — surged after pandemic lockdowns. The overall labor market has become more balanced as demand has cooled and Americans have returned to the work force. But economists and demographers say shortages will re-emerge as the population ages.“It seems to be happening slowly enough that we’re not seeing it as a crisis,” said Diana Elliott, vice president for U.S. programs at the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research organization. “It’s happening in slow motion.”Long-run labor scarcity will look different from the acute shortages of the pandemic era. Businesses will find ways to adapt, either by paying workers more or by adapting their operations to require fewer of them. Those that can’t adapt will lose ground to those that can.“It’s just going to be a new equilibrium,” said Jacob Vigdor, an economist at the University of Washington, adding that businesses that built their operations on the availability of relatively cheap labor may struggle.“You may discover that that business model doesn’t work for you anymore,” he said. “There are going to be disruptions. There are going to be winners and losers.”Higher Wages, More OpportunityCentral Vermont Medical Center built a classroom and simulation lab for its training programs. A trainee practiced a procedure using a dummy.The winners are the workers. When workers are scarce, employers have an incentive to broaden their searches — considering people with less formal education, or those with disabilities — and to give existing employees opportunities for advancement.At Central Vermont Medical Center, as at rural hospitals across the country, the pandemic compounded an existing nursing shortage. An aging population means that demand for health care will only grow.So the medical center has teamed up with two local colleges on a program enabling hospital employees to train as nurses while working full time. The hospital built a classroom and simulation lab on site, and lent out its nurses to serve as faculty. Students spend 12 of their paid working hours each week studying — and if they stay on as nurses for three years after completing the program, their student debt is forgiven.The program has graduated 27 licensed practical nurses and eight registered nurses since 2021; some previously had administrative jobs. The hospital is expanding the training to roles like respiratory technicians and phlebotomists.Other businesses are finding their own ways to accommodate workers. Lake Champlain Chocolates, a high-end chocolate maker outside Burlington, has revamped its production schedule to reduce its reliance on seasonal help. It has also begun bringing former employees out of retirement, hiring them part time during the holiday season.The medical center has teamed up with two local colleges on a program enabling hospital employees to train as nurses while working full time.“We’ve adapted,” said Allyson Myers, the company’s marketing director. “Prepandemic we never would have said, oh, come and work in the fulfillment department one day a week or two days a week. We wouldn’t have offered that as an option.”Then there is the most straightforward way to attract workers: paying them more. Lake Champlain has raised starting wages for its factory and retail workers 20 to 35 percent over the past two years.Charles Goodhart, a British economist, said the aging of the population would tend to lead to lower inequality — albeit at the cost of higher prices.“Since the available supply of workers will go down, relative to demand, workers will demand and get higher wages,” Mr. Goodhart, who in 2020 published a book on the economic consequences of aging societies, wrote in an email.Robots and HousingCabot Creamery is in a rural area where cellphone coverage is spotty and many roads are unpaved. The county has only about 700 unemployed people, according to Vermont’s Labor Department.When Walmart reached out to Cabot Creamery about increasing distribution of its Greek yogurt, Jason Martin hesitated — he wasn’t sure he could find enough workers to meet the extra demand.Mr. Martin is senior vice president of operations for Agri-Mark, the agricultural cooperative that owns Cabot Creamery, the nationally distributed brand that employs close to 700 people in Vermont. When the company’s leadership talks about adding a product or expanding production, he said, labor is nearly always the first topic.“As I present products to our board of directors, in the back of my mind I always think, ‘I’m going to need to find the people,’” Mr. Martin said.The labor challenge is evident at Cabot Creamery’s packaging plant in the company’s namesake town. Blocks of cheese weighing close to 700 pounds are fed into machines that cut them, for one product, into cracker-size slices. Employees in gloves and hairnets then drop the slices into plastic pouches, which are sealed and packaged together. Many of the workers are in their 50s and 60s, and have been with Cabot for decades.Cabot is over an hour from Burlington, in a rural area where cellphone coverage is spotty and many roads are unpaved. The county has only about 700 unemployed people, according to the state’s Labor Department, and while the company has raised pay and offers generous benefits — a recent marketing campaign cites perks including a defined-benefit pension plan, tuition reimbursement and, of course, free cheese — hiring remains difficult.Cabot has raised pay and offers generous benefits such as pension plan, tuition reimbursement and, of course, free cheese, but hiring remains difficult.Adding to the challenge is Vermont’s housing shortage. Cabot has contracted with a local college to use unoccupied dormitories to house temporary workers brought in from other states and — on guest-worker visas — from other countries.It is also investing in automation — not just to require fewer workers but also to make jobs less taxing for its aging employee base. New equipment will package cheese slices automatically.To economists, investments like Cabot’s are good news — a sign that companies are finding ways to make the people they have more productive.But ultimately, many economists say, Vermont — and the country as a whole — will simply need more workers. Some could come from the existing population, through companies’ efforts to tap into new labor pools and through government efforts to address larger issues like the opioid crisis, which has sidelined hundreds of thousands of working-age Americans.Not all economists think aging demographics are likely to drive a national labor shortage.The ranks of people in their prime working years was stagnant for years before the pandemic, but labor was often plentiful, said Adam Ozimek, the chief economist at Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan public policy organization. Increased immigration, he added, would add to demand as well as supply.Still, many economists argue that immigrants will be an important part of the solution, especially in fields, like elder care, that are rapidly growing and hard to automate.“We need to start looking at immigrants as a strategic resource, incredibly valuable parts of the economy,” said Ron Hetrick, senior labor economist at Lightcast, a labor market data firm.Workers WantedKevin Chu, the executive director of the Vermont Futures Project, sees the worker shortage as an imminent, long-term threat to the state’s economy.Kevin Chu has spent the past several months traveling around Vermont speaking to local business groups, elected officials, nonprofit organizations and pretty much anyone else who would listen. His message: Vermont needs more people.Mr. Chu is the executive director of the Vermont Futures Project, a nonprofit organization, backed by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, that sees the worker shortage as an imminent, long-term threat to the state’s economy.Mr. Chu grew up in Vermont after his parents immigrated from China in the mid-1980s, part of a wave of immigrants — many of them refugees — who came to the state during that period. He recalls attending Burlington High School at a time when it flew the flag of its students’ home countries, dozens in all.“I feel like I got a glimpse of what Vermont could be,” he said.Mr. Chu’s message has resonated with business leaders and state officials, but it has been a tougher sell with the population as a whole. A recent poll found that a plurality — but not a majority — of Vermonters supported increasing the population.The Futures Project has set a goal of increasing the population to 802,000 by 2035, from fewer than 650,000 today. That would also help bring down Vermont’s median age to 40, from 42.7.The state has a long way to go: Vermont added just 92 people from 2021 to 2022.The root of Vermont’s staffing challenge is simple: More than a quarter of its adults are 65 or older, and more than 40 percent are over 54. More

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    How High Interest Rates Sting Bakers, Farmers and Consumers

    Home buyers, entrepreneurs and public officials are confronting a new reality: If they want to hold off on big purchases or investments until borrowing is less expensive, it’s probably going to be a long wait.Governments are paying more to borrow money for new schools and parks. Developers are struggling to find loans to buy lots and build homes. Companies, forced to refinance debts at sharply higher interest rates, are more likely to lay off employees — especially if they were already operating with little or no profits.Over the past few weeks, investors have realized that even with the Federal Reserve nearing an end to its increases in short-term interest rates, market-based measures of long-term borrowing costs have continued rising. In short, the economy may no longer be able to avoid a sharper slowdown.“It’s a trickle-down effect for everyone,” said Mary Kay Bates, the chief executive of Bank Midwest in Spirit Lake, Iowa.Small banks like Ms. Bates’s are at the epicenter of America’s credit crunch for small businesses. During the pandemic, with the Fed’s benchmark interest rate near zero and consumers piling up savings in bank accounts, she could make loans at 3 to 4 percent. She also put money into safe securities, like government bonds.But when the Fed’s rate started rocketing up, the value of Bank Midwest’s securities portfolio fell — meaning that if Ms. Bates sold the bonds to fund more loans, she would have to take a steep loss. Deposits were also waning, as consumers spent down their savings and moved money into higher-yielding assets.Higher Interest Rates Are Here More