Seven Vermont Chamber Members Awarded Capital Investment Program Grants

Seven Vermont Chamber Members Awarded Capital Investment Program Grants

Two rounds of Capital Investment Program (CIP) funding has been approved and seven Vermont Chamber members have been awarded grants. Funding will support the education, outdoor recreation, childcare, healthcare, arts & culture, and housing sectors. The program aims to strengthen and revitalize communities by reversing the harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding assistance for capital investments will help businesses recover, retain existing jobs and spur economic growth.

Read more about CIP funding here.

Below are the Vermont Chamber members who received CIP grants:

Rise in Organized Retail Theft Driving Policy Discussions

Rise in Organized Retail Theft Driving Policy Discussions

Nationwide, stores are closing locations due to rising crime. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, organized retail theft is now costing businesses $700,000 per billion in sales. If organized retail theft has impacted your business and you have insight to share, please email govaffairs@vtchamber.com.

Throughout the past year, the Vermont Chamber has heard from businesses experiencing the rise in retail theft, and we have been comparing the policy changes in other states aimed at addressing this issue, which could be blueprints for Vermont to follow in the coming years.

In a recent panel discussion, Summer Stephan, the San Diego County District Attorney, said this problem has been on the rise during the pandemic due to increased online purchasing, which has driven a demand for stolen goods to online marketplaces. Shannon Penberthy, VP of Federal Gov Affairs for CVS Health, reports that organized retail theft occurs every three minutes in their stores.

Pandemic court backlogs create delays in prosecution, and result in defendants being released on bail in the interim, emboldening repeat offenders free to commit repeat thefts. Some district attorneys, including in Chittenden County, have been public about their criminal justice reform efforts and released lists of crimes they will not prioritize for prosecution. Some organized retail theft rings have used these as playbooks for what they know they can get away with. According to Stephan, consistent enforcement and prosecution creates a no-tolerance culture for would-be thieves.

Vermont retailers report habitual thieves calculating the value of goods before stealing to ensure they remain under the threshold for felonies. Recent reforms have been passed in Illinois and Florida to aggregate thefts, and while a similar bill was introduced this past session in Vermont, it did not make it to final passage. Other reforms could include differentiating between first-time and repeat offenders in release conditions, bail, and sentencing.

In a recent forum hosted by the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, the two candidates for Chittenden County State’s Attorney offered their own visions for how these crimes would be handled.

What, if anything, can business owners do now? Stephan’s advice to businesses was to not give up, keep reporting these thefts to police, and invest in cameras so that police can do their investigations and eventually bring justice. Report with as much detail as possible what merchandise was stolen, and what the value of that merchandise was, so officers can trace the goods, find out where they are sold, and sever the relationships to eliminate the demand for the stolen goods. CVS has implemented various procedures to limit access to high-value products, such as locking items in cases or placing items further from the door or closer to cameras or staff to monitor it more closely. Finally, some businesses have joined local or state retail theft task forces to advocate for change, share best practices, and address the problem on the ground as much as possible.

New Programs Coming Soon

New Programs Coming Soon

This session, the Legislature created several new programs. As details emerge, the Vermont Chamber will continue to share guidance and resources on how you can apply as information becomes available.

This is what we know so far:

VEDA Short Term Forgivable Loan Program This program will provide financial assistance to businesses that continue to demonstrate economic harm due to the COVID pandemic. VEDA is required to submit the proposed guidelines and processes for the program to the Joint Fiscal Committee and chairs of the legislative committees of jurisdiction before accepting the first applicants. The next scheduled meeting of the Joint Fiscal Committee is July 28th. VEDA will then release guidance and begin accepting applicants from priority sectors (arts and culture, travel, lodging, tourism, agriculture, and childcare) in early August. Applicants from all sectors will be able to apply starting October 3rd. Check out this presentation for more details.

Community Recovery and Revitalization Program – This program will provide COVID-related grant relief to businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities.

  • For-profit or nonprofit entities must demonstrate documented financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic or intend to use the funds for a CSFRF-eligible project.
  • Municipalities may use the funding to make infrastructure improvements to incentivize community development. This must be compatible with municipal and regional development plans and have clear local significance for employment.

All applicants must demonstrate community and regional support for the project; that grant funding is needed to complete the project; leveraging of additional sources of funding from local, State, or federal economic development programs; and an ability to manage the project, with requisite experience and a plan for fiscal viability. The maximum award amount will not exceed the lesser of $1,000,000 or 20% of the total project cost. VEPC (Vermont Economic Progress Council) will review applicants, and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development may designate priority sectors for priority consideration.

Missing Middle Homeownership Program – This program will provide subsidies and incentives for the construction or rehabilitation of homes affordable to middle-income Vermont homebuyers. The proposed draft program guidelines are now available for public comment through August 1, 2022. The Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) plans to open the application process for project proposals in late July 2022, with awards for funding to be issued after the VHFA Board of Commissioners approves program guidance on August 15, 2022. Questions and comments can be sent to developmentdept@vhfa.org.

Liquor Law Changes – Ready-to-drink canned cocktails began shipping out from wholesalers and hitting the shelves in Vermont retail stores on July 1st. The Department of Liquor and Lottery (DLL) also made progress on two key initiatives supported by the Vermont Chamber and VTIR: the launch of an On-Premise Sales Program that provides discounted rates specifically for 3rd class licensees, and Board of Liquor and Lottery approval to allow licensees to make purchases at 802Spirits stores via credit and debit cards. DLL staff are working toward implementation of the credit and debit card purchases. View the sales program information for August.

Retirements Mark the End of an Era, and the Start of a New Chapter

Retirements Mark the End of an Era, and the Start of a New Chapter

With so many long-time legislators moving on from the State House, we are reflecting on the legacies of these movers and shakers, and the big shoes left to fill in their absence.

Senator Michael Sirotkin, Chair of the Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, will retire after representing Chittenden County for nine years. He was a tireless champion for workers, exemplified this session in his efforts to make historic investments in workforce housing development with the Missing Middle Income Home Ownership Development Program. Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, who represented Stowe for 16 years, is also retiring. She was an extraordinary advocate for the Stowe community as well as the business community, and a partner to the Vermont Chamber on a variety of issues impacting local businesses through the years. Rep. Janet Ancel, Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, is also retiring after representing Calais, Marshfield, and Plainfield since 2005. A former Tax Commissioner, she leaves behind a tax system with diversified revenue streams capable of weathering future economic downturns. The State House will be a different landscape without Senator Sirotkin, Rep. Schuermann, and Rep. Ancel. We thank them for their work and wish them well in the next adventure.

Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, who represented Montpelier for over 20 years, had announced that he would retire at the end of this term, but sadly he passed away this summer. A founder of Onion River Sports and longtime member of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, he was a voice for small businesses in the State House and worked alongside the Vermont Chamber on several business initiatives over the years. The Vermont Chamber sends our condolences to his family, friends, and community.

With even more retirements in the Legislature, the mass turnover will result in many chairmanships being taken over by up-and-coming legislators. In preparation, the Vermont Chamber advocacy team is continuing to develop relationships with key legislators who are critical to our work in the State House. We are closely following the upcoming elections to stay on top of the changing landscape and intend to educate candidates and newly elected legislators on the issues that impact the Vermont business community.

Thanking All-Star Legislators

Thanking All-Star Legislators

This session, some legislators went above and beyond to champion policies that support the business community. If they made a difference for your business, please join us in reaching out to express your gratitude.

Senator Ann Cummings was instrumental in the passage of the manufacturing tax exemption as well as securing $17 million in savings for health insurance costs for small businesses and employees. Senators Alison Clarkson and Kesha Ram-Hinsdale went to bat for small businesses in the design of the VEDA forgivable loan program.

On the House side, Representative Emilie Kornheiser made the passage of the manufacturing tax exemption possible. Representatives Michael Marcotte and Stephanie Jerome ushered in the VEDA forgivable loan program. Representative Matt Birong was a champion for the hospitality industry, working to ensure relief programs served the hardest-hit businesses. Representatives Anne Donahue and Lori Houghton worked tirelessly to secure a compromise that yielded the $17 million in health insurance savings.

Commissioner Joan Goldstein was also an invaluable resource in the Legislature’s economic development work, providing expertise that led to the success of the VEDA forgivable loan program and the Community Recovery and Revitalization Program.

Our work on behalf of the business community to champion the long-term health of the Vermont economy would not be possible without our strong partnerships in the State House.

Our Members Are at the Center of All We Do

Our Members Are at the Center of All We Do

Our legislative successes would not be possible without the incredible engagement of our members. This year, we called upon members to offer their expertise to the Legislature by testifying on issues including the VEDA forgivable loan program, liquor law changes, and the manufacturing tax exemption, just to name a few. This testimony was invaluable in providing legislators with the on-the-ground state of the industry needed to make important policy decisions. We also could not have achieved our outcomes without our members reaching out to their local legislators at critical moments, providing timely responses to our questions, advising, sharing feedback in our industry focus groups, and of course supporting our work financially.

Thank you!

Retirements and Candidates Seeking Higher Office Spell State House Shakeup

Retirements and Candidates Seeking Higher Office Spell State House Shakeup

With Senator Leahy announcing his intention to retire at the end of his term, many in the Vermont political landscape saw an opportunity to move up. State Senator Becca Balint is leaving the upper chamber and her position as Senate Pro Tempore to run for Congress against Lt. Governor Molly Gray, prompting State Senator Joe Benning, Representative Charlie Kimbell, former Representative Kitty Toll, and former Lt. Governor David Zuckerman to announce their candidacies for Lt. Governor. In addition, the end of the “COVID biennium” brought a wave of retirements, which will leave more than half of Vermont House committee chairs up for grabs, and bring turnover to more than a third of Vermont Senate seats. But this all means more than just political intrigue. The shakeup in the State House will mean an infusion of new blood, and more junior members taking over leadership roles in key committees, including on the Senate Economic Development Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Vermont Chamber’s advocacy team will be hitting the road this summer, meeting with member businesses and legislators in their districts, as well as candidates of all political stripes to get a jump on forming the critical relationships necessary to fight effectively for the business community’s legislative agenda next session. To read more about the races to watch, check out this write-up by VTDigger, and stay tuned later this summer for more insight from the Vermont Chamber.

With Compromise, State Appropriations Reflect Shared Goals

With Compromise, State Appropriations Reflect Shared Goals

The Governor and Legislature each prioritized investments in the workforce, housing, critical infrastructure, and tax savings this session, and the budget and other major appropriations bills reflected those priorities. The budget included a $95 million investment in broadband connectivity projects, $50 million for the Vermont Housing Conservation Board, and a total of $137.8 million in economic and workforce development programs. The budget also provided over $7 million for childcare, invested in water and wastewater systems, and established the IT Modernization Fund, which will in part fund the Vermont Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance modernization project. The Capital Bill also invested in VHCB, funded municipal pollution control grants and clean water programs, supported renovations in nursing training labs, and funded the Regional Economic Development Grants Program. The Transportation Bill made significant investments in highways, roads, and bridges, as well as bike and pedestrian facilities and transportation alternatives. It funded public transit, electric vehicle and bike incentives, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure along highways. Finally, a revenue surplus in the Education Fund allowed tax savings to be returned to tax payers in the form of property tax exemptions and the manufacturing tax exemption, as well as investments such as a $15 million CTE construction and rehabilitation program turning outdated structures into housing units. Despite compromising on some pieces of the priorities, these major investments in shared goals make clear that Vermont is rowing in the same direction, and we can make progress to build a better future for our state.

2022 Legislative Success

2022 Legislative Success

According to Vermont Department of Labor, “for every three open jobs in Vermont, there is one person categorized as ‘unemployed.’” This critical shortage of workers in the state informed the Vermont Chamber’s legislative priorities this session, as the advocacy team fought to attract new workers to the state, equip those on the margins with the skills and training they need to join the workforce, secure relief funding for businesses recovering from the pandemic to save jobs, promote growth in emerging industries, and address barriers to growth in areas such as housing, land development, and taxes.

Business Loan-to-Grant Program: S.11, the workforce and economic development bill containing a loan-to-grant business relief program, was signed into law by Governor Scott on June 8. The $19 million business relief program, administered by VEDA, will support businesses whose operations were particularly impacted by pandemic-related economic impacts, such as restaurants, lodging properties, and special events vendors, who were forced to close or severely limit their operations. Businesses that took on significant debt or are still dealing with lingering pandemic impacts should apply for forgivable loans when the program opens applications later this summer.

Growing the Workforce: The Legislature allocated significant resources toward upskilling and training in S.11, signed on June 8, to better equip Vermont workers for in-demand, high-paying jobs, particularly in healthcare and the trades. Funding was also passed for programs geared toward supporting BIPOC business owners as well as justice-involved individuals, and additional funding was passed for retention incentives for New Americans, recent college graduates, and healthcare educators. The Legislature also allocated just over $3 million for the relocation incentive program, which will offset the moving costs for new workers relocating to Vermont. However, there is no funding or critical marketing to tell our story, despite the data showing that many people would move to Vermont without being incentivized because of the quality of life and all Vermont has to offer. This represents a missed opportunity to capture the attention of more workers who may be inclined to make Vermont their permanent home.

Housing: Governor Scott signed S.210 and S.226 into law on June 7. S.226 contains a $15 million investment to develop housing units for the “missing middle income” housing stock. S.210 will focus on rehabilitating dilapidated rental units and building more apartment buildings in downtowns, both of which will increase availability of workforce housing options.

Liquor Law Modernization: 730, containing provisions to modernize Vermont’s liquor laws, was signed into law on June 7. Ready-to-drink (RTD) spirit-based beverages that have a 12% or less ABV will now shift from the exclusive purview of the Department of Liquor and Lottery and will be permitted to be sold in the same retail streams as malt and vinous beverages. First-class licensees will also now be able to serve RTDs, which will provide greater access to products for both licensees and consumers. Additional provisions of interest for the hospitality industry include the ability for third-class licensees to purchase tickets for the rare and unusual product raffle which was previously only available for consumers; and allowing the Department to stagger new and renewal dates for permits versus an annual renewal, which will likely expedite processing times and provide a better permitting process for new businesses.

Healthcare Cost Savings: On May 24, Governor Scott signed into law H.489, a bill which will allow $17.7 million in health insurance cost savings to be extended to small businesses and their workers for another year.

Tax Savings: Governor Scott signed H.510, a tax relief package, into law on May 27. The bill includes a partial military pension tax exemption which excludes the first $10,000 of federally taxable U.S. military retirement pay from taxable income, and subject to adjusted gross income thresholds and phase outs. Governor Scott issued a signing statement, stressing his disappointment that more of his tax relief proposals were not included in the bill. Governor Scott signed S.53, a tax reform bill which includes single sales factor and corporate minimum, into law on May 31. Once fully implemented, analysts with the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office said that part of the bill could cut corporate taxes by roughly $11 million a year. Finally, an expanded manufacturing tax exemption in the H.738 Miscellaneous Tax bill was signed into law on June 7. The expansion will exempt machinery and equipment used in integrated production operations and all ancillary processes between raw materials and finished goods, as well as manufacturing for packaging and quality assurance. This change will enhance workforce recruitment and retention, modernize facilities, and make Vermont competitive with the 33 other states that have similar exemptions.

Arts Funding: The $9 million allocated for relief for the creative economy will fund grants to arts nonprofits that suffered from the closures of venues during the COVID pandemic and can be used to bring arts installations into downtowns and other public spaces. This funding was included in S.11, which was signed into law on June 8.

Next session, the advocacy team will continue to build upon these victories, with a renewed focus on securing relocation marketing to grow the workforce and finding solutions to the childcare shortage across the state.

29 Vermont Chamber Members Honored for Worksite Wellness Efforts

29 Vermont Chamber Members Honored for Worksite Wellness Efforts

More than 70 businesses and organizations that employ Vermont workers have been selected to receive a 2022 Vermont Governor’s Award for Excellence in Worksite Wellness, 29 of which are Vermont Chamber members.

The annual award is an opportunity for Governor Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine to thank businesses and organizations for their efforts to support the health of Vermonters and in making Vermont a great place to live and work.

Read more about the 2022 Vermont Governor’s Award for Excellence in Worksite Wellness here.

Below are the Vermont Chamber members who received the 2022 Vermont Governor’s Award for Excellence in Worksite Wellness: