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Best Cities 2010: Burlington, Vt.

The economy in our number-eight pick for Best Cities for the Next Decade is powered by the green movement.

This mountain city wants to be a role model for saving the planet. Environmentalism isn’t just ingrained in the city’s diverse economy; it’s the driver for much of its economic growth. For example, Seventh Generation, maker of eco-friendly household products, is headquartered on Burlington’s beautiful Lake Champlain waterfront.

Outside the city, Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Cooperative are working together to build a new wind farm that will add jobs in the growing green sector. "And it's a way of capitalizing on the Vermont brand with its clean air and mountains," says Gen Burnell, of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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Creativity and entrepreneurship define Burlington. The town is a haven for writers and artists, and that innovative spirit energizes white-collar workers as well. "Creativity is the lifeblood of our businesses," says Bruce Seifer, of Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office. "Having art everywhere inspires those aha moments, to create something new and reinvent existing products."

Even a mundane commercial oven cooks up ingenuity in Burlington. When Kentucky Fried Chicken realized it needed to offer healthier menu items, it turned to Blodgett, a maker of commercial ovens that has been based in Burlington since its founding in 1848. Last year, the partnership resulted in the introduction of Kentucky Grilled Chicken -- a finger-lickin' good choice for health-conscious customers. And the newly engineered Blodgett ovens that cook the chicken at more than 5,000 KFC locations are eco- and cost-conscious, too: The half-size, energy-efficient ovens each save $600 a year in electricity costs.

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Big Blue has a big presence as well. In nearby Essex Junction, IBM’s microelectronics plant, with about 5,000 workers, remains the area’s single largest employer despite the company’s recent ups and downs. The University of Vermont is also a stalwart employer and a fount of fresh ideas and technology.

The city’s largest employers are also seeing green: UVM’s green building program is nationally recognized for its commitment to ensuring that new construction meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. The university’s Dudley H. Davis Center is the country’s first student center to earn LEED gold-level certification, and the school now has five LEED-certified campus buildings. And last year, medical center Fletcher Allen Health Care received a $143,000 federal grant to develop its program of serving local foods to patients and in its cafeterias.

In fact, the local-food movement spreads throughout the city. Many shops and restaurants along Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace, the famous pedestrian mall, serve up local goodies. A couple blocks over, the City Market/Onion River Co-Op, a community-owned grocery store, offers more than 1,000 Vermont products. (And atop the supermarket, generating 3% of the Co-Op’s energy needs -- enough electricity to power six Burlington homes -- are 136 solar panels from groSolar, another Vermont-based company.) And the crown jewel for locavores: The Intervale Center is a nonprofit organization that has managed 350 acres of family-owned farmland in Burlington since 1988 and provides 10% of the town’s food. "We’re 30 years ahead of the country with the local-food movement," says Seifer.

VIDEO: Take a Guided Tour of Burlington

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