Building Our Future Economy: A Conversation with Congressman Welch

Building Our Future Economy: A Conversation with Congressman Welch

Congressman Peter Welch joined Vermont Chamber members for a conversation about how Vermont can leverage federal funding to build the economy of the future. The Congressman discussed the impacts COVID-19 has had on businesses and empathized with what employers have gone through. The discussion turned to the workforce shortage, with a need for housing, childcare, and infrastructure to attract more people to live and work in Vermont. Julia Birnn Fields of Birnn Chocolates spoke of her business’s success in hiring New Americans, and Sarah Morris of Basin Harbor talked about her challenges in hiring enough seasonal workers without a steady supply of foreign workers. Congressman Welch spoke about the recent increase in the H2B visa program and the Afghan refugees being resettled in Rutland. He will continue to support efforts to bring more workers to Vermont, through visa programs and refugee resettlement. Ruth Ann Pattee of Northern Stage Theater Company asked what provisions for housing may come from federal funds. Congressman Welch discussed the increase in housing prices, the impact from short term rentals on the housing market, and his support of the Build Back Better bill’s funding of tax credits and construction of new housing units. He also affirmed his support for replenishing the Restaurant Relief Funds, which could provide much-needed aid to the at least 581 Vermont restaurants with unmet need. Catch up on this conversation by viewing the recording of the event here.

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Funding for Childcare Part of the Workforce Crisis Solution

Funding for Childcare Part of the Workforce Crisis Solution

In his State of the State address, the Governor foreshadowed support for childcare programs in his upcoming budget, specifically referencing changes to the Childcare Financial Assistance program to increase access to quality care and learning. That is one component of helping families with children. Other areas up for discussion this session include emergency compensation and recruitment tools for early childhood educators and funding a Child Care Financing Study. The Governor will also propose a tax relief package focused on retirees, middle-income families and young workers which may create room for discussion on a state-level Child Tax Credit, similar to the federal tax credit that recently expired. The initial proposal would be a $1,200 annual refundable tax credit for children under six with an estimated cost of $58.7 million. How this would be funded in the short-term or long-term has yet to be discussed but the House Committee on Ways and Means appeared poised to pursue this proposal.

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Building Out Broadband to Attract Workers Will Require…More Workers

Building Out Broadband to Attract Workers Will Require…More Workers
Historic federal investments in broadband infrastructure will jumpstart broadband buildout, connecting more households, businesses, and community anchor institutions to bring the economy into the 21st century. Due to the matching requirements for most of these programs, the Legislature must determine whether State funds appropriated for broadband buildout will be sufficient to cover Vermont’s share of the cost of these projects, and whether the State is on track to meet statutory goals of providing 100/100 Mbps service to all locations in Vermont by 2024. The Legislature must also address the problem of finding the workforce to carry out this project. Last year, the Legislature created a pilot program at Vermont Technical College to train fiber-optic technicians, pay them during classroom training and apprenticeship, and offer wraparound services such as childcare. The Vermont Chamber supports this program to create a stronger talent pool and will continue to advocate for relocation incentives to attract more workers to the state.

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Capital Investment Grant Program Needs More Funds

Capital Investment Grant Program Needs More Funds

The Capital Investment Program was initially funded with $10.5 million in ARPA funds to support transformational projects for key infrastructure needs including housing, climate, wastewater and economic development. As collaborative community projects rolled in, the program was oversubscribed by $60 million. The Senate Committee on Economic Development reacted positively to the Department of Economic Development’s presentation which will likely lead to greater funding to replenish the program.

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Business Grant Program may be Re-Tooled to Better Meet Need

Business Grant Program may be Re-Tooled to Better Meet Need

Preliminary discussions in committees on the $30 million Bridge Grant program highlighted the low participation rate with only $3.6 million allocated. The early consensus is that program amendments are needed with the Department of Economic Development asking for greater discretion to determine need beyond just a net loss year over year. The remaining need continues to focus on the hospitality, performing arts and agriculture industries. With nearly $25 million remaining in this program and the Governor’s previous interest in reserving another $25 million for business grants, this will be a priority for the Vermont Chamber. We will work toward an amendment that makes this program less restrictive and easier to access in a timely manner.

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Increasing Funds for Housing and Workforce

Increasing Funds for Housing and Workforce

The Governor’s requests for adjustments to the current year funding were discussed. The Vermont Chamber testified in support of increases in programs that support growing Vermont’s workforce and workforce housing. Those include Vermont State College funding to the Critical Occupations Program Scholarship, the Welcome Home Scholarship, and a CTE pilot program as well as ARPA funds going to housing programs for VHCB, VHIP, a rental risk pool, and a Missing Middle Home Ownership Development Pilot Program. You can view that testimony here.

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Governor’s State of the State Aligns with Vermont Chamber Priorities

Governor’s State of the State Aligns with Vermont Chamber Priorities
Gov. Phil Scott’s State of the State address focused on Vermont’s workforce crisis, a familiar theme for employers. The Governor stated that he will not support any legislation that could make the workforce shortage worse. He prioritized workforce training opportunities with an expansion to the CTE program and a relocation incentive package with targeted marketing to attract new workers. The Governor also outlined other ways to attract more workers through refugee resettlement, recruitment of Canadian businesses, modernizing licensing laws, and eliminating the tax on military pensions. In response, Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop said, “We support initiatives to fund our training programs, build more housing, and provide relocation incentives, all of which will benefit from federal ARPA funds.” The Governor also noted the shortage of middle-income housing as a critical need for addressing the workforce shortage. The Governor suggested his budget will address other economic development programs and make transformational investments for a strong economic future. The Governor’s budget will be presented in two weeks.

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