Chamber Directors Complete 8 Hours of DEI Training

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Vermont Chamber Directors Complete 8 Hours of DEI Training at Annual Education Conference
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The Vermont Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (VACCE) held their annual conference this year with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training. Twenty-nine chamber directors from across the state attended the education conference and completed more than eight hours of training.

The virtual conference was held on Friday, November 12, and Friday, November 19. Presenters at the virtual conference included Kuma Roberts, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Arrowhead Consulting based in Tulsa, OK; Mark Hunter, Founder & CEO at Pinnacle Coaching in Chittenden County; and Curtiss Reed, President of the CRJ Consulting Group, L3C and Executive Director of Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity in Brattleboro.

Roberts led the first day of training with a session entitled, “Leading with Equity.” Roberts has 10 years of organizational development experience specializing in the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion, cultural competence, implicit bias, strategies for becoming an equity-centered organization, inclusive workplace language, and other elements of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a graduate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute of Organizational Management, she has spoken to hundreds of businesses, non-profits, and chambers of commerce on the best practices for developing a strategic plan related to DEI.

Day two involved Mark Hunter and Curtiss Reed. Hunter presented on “The Social and Business ROI of a DEI Initiative.” Hunter is an executive and leadership coach holding the credential of Master Certified Coach, a published author (The Brink: How Great Leadership Is Invented), and a leadership consultant and trainer. As the President and Founder of Pinnacle Coaching, his career has spanned over 26 years working globally with top-tier business and organizational executives and prominent thought leaders. His specialties include leadership training and development, mastery of dynamic communication, effective relationship and team building, crisis leadership, culture reinvention and implementation, market disruption, DEI initiative implementation, radical innovation, thought leadership, and working with fear and the unknown as assets in unpredictable environments.

Reed concluded the retreat with “Bigotry is Bad for Business,” a message about Vermont’s consumer base becoming multiracial, multiethnic, and multilingual and therefore Vermont’s economic growth and prosperity being dependent on the business community’s ability to capture the attention of these multicultural consumers and provide them with goods and experiences that exceed their expectations. Reed is the driving force behind four statewide initiatives: The Vermont African American Heritage Trail, The Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future Initiative, I Am A Vermonter, and The Think Tank for Vermont Leaders of Color. After 18 consecutive years working and living overseas in Arabic-, Portuguese-, and French-speaking countries, Reed returned to Vermont in 2001. Reed’s consulting experience spans four decades in both international and domestic markets. Recipient of multiple honors and awards, in 2015 the School for International Training Graduate Institute awarded Reed a Doctorate of Humane Letters Honoris Causa for his life’s work to make Vermont a desirable destination for all.

“This was a very timely training for all of us and very powerful,” said Matt Harrington, the executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber and organizer of this year’s conference. “Every speaker brought a new perspective to the discussion and really made our leadership group think. We have a lot of work to do as community leaders and business leaders. This conference was a step in the right direction. The VACCE organization and chamber directors will continue to focus efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion both in our local communities and across the state.”

As a gift for attending the virtual retreat every chamber director was given a copy of Robin DiAngelo’s book, “Nice Racism.”

Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber and president of the VACCE board, said, “As community leaders, it’s important for chamber directors to engage in ongoing professional development on DEI. I’m proud that as leaders we recognize the importance of raising our voice for diversity in our communities, equity among our businesses, and inclusion of all Vermonters.”

For more information about VACCE visit: https://chamberup.org/

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Equity Is the Path to Economic Success in Vermont

Equity Is the Path to Economic Success in Vermont

By Betsy Bishop, Vermont Chamber of Commerce

Every day there is a news story about policies Vermont is addressing to further diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many organizations, including the Vermont Chamber, are focusing on this internally and programmatically to do our part to foster equity and inclusion in our areas of influence. And yet, recently, I’ve seen reports of public slurs and hate directed at people of color. This is most disturbing when we hear about it at school events because these students – all of them – are our future.

We cannot abide this intolerance. Vermont’s economic growth and prosperity is dependent on our ability to embrace all people. Today’s students are our customers, our future workforce, our future leaders, our future entrepreneurs, and our neighbors. When I read the op-ed An Honest Education is a Key to Vermont’s Economic Future by Curtiss Reed, Jr., president and CEO of CRJ Consulting Group and executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, I recognized that as a business leader, I must amplify his message and encourage businesses to spread the message that Vermont only works if it works for everyone.

Our current demographics are challenging, and we must welcome a growing and changing population to have a bright future with healthy economic growth that complements our deep values around environmental sustainability and a just society. We want our economy, society, and environment to thrive together. Vermont consistently ranks as one of the oldest and whitest states in the nation. Before the pandemic, our partners at the Vermont Futures Project identified that Vermont needed 10,000 more workers in the labor force. That number is even higher now.

According to their data, since the 2008 recession, Vermont has struggled from the dual challenges of rural flight and an aging population. Lifestyle amenities and urban job opportunities draw workers away from rural areas, while a generation of people are also retiring from the workforce.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released data this month that shows we have 23,000 open jobs in Vermont – exacerbated by the pandemic. We simply need more people here. We must welcome all people into our communities as our neighbors and co-workers to help sustain and grow this beautiful state. Changing demographics are not only a national trend, but also a gift and opportunity for Vermont.

At the Vermont Chamber, we are doing our part. We are advocating for resources for BIPOC-owned businesses, diversifying our Board of Directors, and developing programming to help small businesses create and advance a culture of belonging. We are also working to ensure State leaders continue providing worker incentive programs and make policy changes that attract military veterans to Vermont to strengthen our workforce.

And the work to create a more equitable Vermont starts early. In schools, teachers are helping students become their best selves so they can one day lead Vermont with integrity. The next generation should enter the workforce with diversity, equity, and inclusion in their hearts as fundamental principles.

In a recent NPR interview, former President Barack Obama said that optimism must be extended to people. “Sometimes we put [other people] in a box and we assume that they’re never going to change, and I reject that,” Obama said. “I think the country has … shown itself capable of changing.”

If we want to secure a strong economic future and attract new residents, it’s our collective responsibility to make Vermont the best place it can be – free of intolerance and full of inclusion. A place where we recognize that our fates are tied together and strive for shared success.

For these reasons and more, embracing diversity and promoting equity is critical to Vermont’s economic health and future. We are raising our voice. Have you?

Betsy Bishop is the President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is focused on creating an economic climate conducive to business growth while enhancing Vermont’s quality of life. She lives in East Montpelier.

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Chamber Welcomes New Board Members

Image of new Board Members
Vermont Chamber of Commerce Welcomes New Board Members
Image of new Board Members
Board Members Teresa Kajenski, Kathy Austin, Mané Alves, Roger Nishi, and Keith Jones (Not pictured: Chiuho Sampson)

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce welcomed six new Directors to the Board: Mané Alves of Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea Company, Kathy Austin of Community National Bank, Keith Jones of National Life, Teresa Kajenski of Fothergill Segale & Valley, Roger Nishi of Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, and Chiuho Sampson of A Single Pebble. The Vermont Chamber also thanks continuing Board Members, who are listed on the organization’s Board of Directors page.

Collectively, the Board is committed to helping further the Vermont Chamber’s mission to ensure a thriving Vermont economy. In 2021, significant legislative priorities advanced that will help businesses recover from the pandemic. With continued challenges ahead, the Vermont Chamber is dedicated to ensuring businesses across the state recover and Vermont’s economic future is bright.

Incoming Chair of the Vermont Chamber Board Peter McDougall, President of Paul, Frank + Collins P.C., said, “Over the last decade, Vermont Chamber leaders have focused on diversifying the Board of Directors to reflect the state’s business makeup. In addition to ongoing efforts to diversify leadership, the Vermont Chamber will continue working towards meaningful change in support of equity and inclusion.”

The Vermont Chamber’s current Board of Directors consists of 48% women, 48% men, 4% gender nonbinary or gender nonconforming individuals, 17% BIPOC individuals, 17% immigrant, refugee, asylee, and/or foreign-born citizens, and 8% LGBTQIA+ individuals. Board members work in varied industries across 10 of Vermont’s 14 counties.

Vermont Chamber of Commerce President Betsy Bishop said, “It is important that all Vermont businesses see themselves and their needs reflected in our leadership and work. We welcome and thank all our Board Members who will help us strengthen Vermont’s economy and be committed to our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.” 

Chair of the Vermont Chamber’s DEI Task Force Willie Docto, Co-Owner of Moose Meadow Lodge, said, “The Board is committed to integrating DEI programming into the Vermont Chamber’s work for sustainable, collective impact. We are creating an action plan and will partner with others to further this work.”

Vermont Chamber Membership Engagement Director Sophia Yager is leading the outreach effort with an intentional focus on BIPOC businesses to gather a greater understanding of needs so the Vermont Chamber can organize resources to support all businesses. You can connect with Sophia Yager by email to learn more and get involved.

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Member Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Merch Benefits Outright Vermont

Chamber Member Lawson's Finest Liquids' Merch Benefits Outright Vermont

Vermont Chamber member Lawson’s Finest Liquids announced a special effort to support Outright Vermont. Outright Vermont provides education, support, and space for LGBTQ+ youth and their families.

All profits from Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ rainbow merchandise, including their Rainbow Can Cooler and Rainbow T-Shirt, will benefit the Outright Vermont organization and their mission.

You can learn more about the effort here, and check out Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ website and Outright Vermont’s website.

Interested in being a Vermont Chamber member? Head here to learn more and connect with us.

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Business Leader Leslie McCrorey-Wells Awarded for Social Justice Work

Business Leader Leslie McCrorey-Wells Awarded for Social Justice Work
Leslie McCrorey-Wells (third from left) holding her award

In honor of her work as a business leader and community advocate, Leslie McCrorey-Wells, co-owner of restaurants Pizzeria VeritàTrattoria Delia, and Sotto Enoteca, and a member of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and the Vermont Independent Restaurant Leadership Council, was presented with the Catherine McAuley Award.

“I want to be a business that’s giving back to its community and helping keep it strong,” McCrorey-Wells said in Nora Peachin’s report for Burlington Free Press.

Learn about Leslie and the award in Burlington Free Press’s article ‘Combatting racism: Burlington restaurant owner recognized for her social justice work’.

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What Makes a Best Place to Work in 2021?

What Makes a Best Place to Work in 2021?

This month, in partnership with Vermont Business Magazine and Best Companies Group, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce revealed 2021’s Best Places to Work in Vermont.

Companies from across the state entered a two-part process to determine the Best Places to Work in Vermont. The first part consisted of evaluating each nominated company’s workplace policies, practices, and demographics. This part of the process was worth approximately 25% of the total evaluation. The second part consisted of an employee survey to measure the employee experience. This part of the process was worth approximately 75% of the total evaluation. The combined scores determined the top companies and the final rankings. Best Companies Group managed the overall registration and survey process in Vermont and analyzed the data, using their expertise to determine the final rankings. View the full list of the 50 Best Places to Work here.

The Vermont Chamber analyzed employee survey responses to pull enlightening statistics and fun ideas shared by winning organizations. See them collected below or in a visual summary in this infographic. We hope these ideas and statistics inspire you in your own workplace:

Statistics Among Winning Organizations

  • 52 percent of employees are female
  • 62 percent employ programs and/or practices to actively recruit and/or retain employees of varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds
  • 66 percent employ programs and/or practices to actively recruit and/or retain members of the disabled community
  • 54 percent employ programs and/or practices to actively recruit and/or retain an aging workforce
  • 64 percent offer formal diversity and inclusion training
  • 72 percent offer employees additional paid time off for community service or volunteer work
  • 92 percent offer telecommuting options to employees
  • 72 percent provide workplace facilities for exercise and fitness
  • 88 percent provide fitness and/or wellness programs within the workplace
  • 68 percent pay all or part of employees’ costs for health club memberships or fitness or wellness programs

Fun Ideas for Wellness and Fitness

  • Staff softball, hockey, and curling teams
  • ​Family 5K
  • Bocce ball tournaments
  • Office Olympics with a variety of lawn games, winning team chooses charity recipient 
  • Available fun equipment including basketball hoops, mini trampolines, foosball tables, ping pong tables, spaces to lounge and relax
  • Bowling nights
  • Paid ski days
  • Massage and meditation offerings
  • Guided stretches and ergonomics offerings
  • Free mindfulness apps
  • Walking competitions 

Fun Ideas for Office Environments and Workplaces

  • Pet-friendly offices
  • Cubicle-decorating contests
  • Coffee-talk Zoom chat/Teams chat channels for personal sharing
  • Virtual book club
  • Stipends for new work-from-home costs
  • Trivia breaks
  • Holiday parties
  • Early-release Fridays
  • De-stress rooms

Fun Ideas for Food and Games

  • Friday beer
  • Chili cookoffs and dessert contests
  • Escape Room trips
  • Weekly staff breakfasts
  • Food basket deliveries to employees
  • Pizza parties for each new hire
  • Birthday celebrations with employees’ food choices
  • Cookie exchanges
  • Weekly cornhole tournaments

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Legislature Adjourns After Passing Several Vermont Chamber Priorities

Legislature Adjourns After Passing Several Vermont Chamber Priorities

The Legislature adjourned Friday until October or January after passing bills that address several legislative priorities the Vermont Chamber worked to support over the past five months. A bill with a tranche of economic development proposals, including investments in tourism marketing, foreign trade, technology-based economic development, workforce development, and BIPOC business support was just one result of the session.

Other legislation that made it over the finish line includes additional economic recovery grants, the largest investment in broadband buildout in Vermont history, investments in child care, health care cost savings for businesses, and additional incentives to recruit workers to Vermont. While these actions will benefit the business community, regrettably the Legislature did not meaningfully respond to the reality of overwhelming unmet financial need in the business community as a result of the pandemic. Lawmakers advanced only $30 million in relief grants, despite the Agency of Commerce and Community Development identifying over $500 million in existing known unmet need. The Vermont Chamber’s lobbying team recognizes the challenges the business community has faced over the last 14 months and worked extensively to understand members’ individual policy needs and advocate for legislative outcomes with the goal of ensuring economic recovery and supporting Vermont’s economic future.

The Legislature passed a $7 billion budget that includes many unprecedented investments across state government, including in economic development. Some notable allocations are:

  • $20 million to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) to fund additional economic recovery grants
  • $20 million to Vermont State Colleges for system transformation over the next four years
  • $11 million to ACCD to be used in the same manner as the Brownfield Remediation Fund
  • $800,000 to ACCD for technology-based economic development grants
  • $1.5 million for the Better Places Program
  • $2 million to the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing in additional funds, beyond the agency’s regular budget for marketing and regional stimulus
  • $650,000 for additional funds for new and remote worker programs
  • $100,000 for adult CTE scholarships
  • $300,000 for adult CTE program improvements
  • $150,000 to ACCD for outreach and technical support for BIPOC-owned businesses
  • $300,000 to support foreign trade with Canada
  • $900,000 to ACCD to fund the Entrepreneurs’ Seed Capital Fund

Funds for much of the budget rely heavily on resources provided to Vermont in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). This massive injection of federal money allowed legislative leaders and the Governor to advance bold proposals that may have otherwise not come to volition for many years.  Please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin with questions.

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Racism and the Economy: Virtual Series

Racism and the Economy: Virtual Series

A virtual event series was hosted in 2021 and 2021 by all twelve Federal Reserve district banks. The series, entitled Racism and the Economy, examined the ways in which structural racism manifests in the United States through the lens of a variety of policy areas, such as employment, education, and housing.

The Vermont Chamber promoted this series as it occurred to our membership and beyond. If you were not able to attend, you can find recordings of this series made available here.

The conversation will continue in future live events that explore racism’s toll on other sectors of the economy and propose ways to address it.

You can learn more here.

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Senate Hears Testimony on BIPOC-Owned Business Provisions

Senate Hears Testimony on BIPOC-Owned Business Provisions

The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs heard testimony this week on provisions in H.159 related to supporting BIPOC-owned businesses. Advocates representing BIPOC Vermonters, including the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and the Center for Women & Enterprise, voiced support for the legislation as a first step in creating sustainable, equitable networks and systems.

Data collection by the Secretary of State remains a high priority, an addition the Vermont Chamber suggested to better understand and reach BIPOC-owned businesses. Witnesses also highlighted the need for assistance in state contracting and procurement, both to ensure equity and to prevent outflow of state dollars to out-of-state firms.

The Vermont Chamber continues to support these provisions as we work to expand our own capacity to serve the BIPOC business community. Efforts are underway to engage with the community to understand how we can use our networking, marketing, and advocacy assets to support BIPOC-owned businesses. To learn more about this work, please contact Vermont Chamber Membership Engagement Director Sophia Yager.

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House Advances Partial Exemption on Military Retirement Pay Taxation

House Advances Partial Exemption on Military Retirement Pay Taxation

The House Committee on Ways and Means added a military retirement pay tax exemption to their controversial cloud tax bill. The tax exemption would exclude the first $10,000 of federally taxable U.S. military retirement pay from state taxation. Vermont is currently one of only a handful of states that fully taxes military retirement pay, which disincentivizes military retirees from moving to Vermont upon conclusion of their service. The Vermont Chamber has long supported fully exempting military retirement pay from taxation because military retirees often conclude service in their 40s and typically possess professional skills that uniquely position them to continue contributing to the workforce until they reach traditional retirement age. Military retirees are also a significantly more racially diverse population than the general population of Vermont.

The Vermont Chamber believes better incentivizing military retirees to move to Vermont would increase the diversity of our communities while also strengthening the workforce. If implemented, this exemption proposal would serve as modest step toward the future goal of fully exempting military retirement pay. However, the Vermont Chamber has concerns about using a bill that will implement a costly new tax on cloud services as a vehicle to advance the exemption. This exemption should, ideally, be increased in scope and advanced as standalone legislation.

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