Vermont Chamber Hosts 9th Annual Manufacturing Summit

Vermont Chamber Hosts 9th Annual Manufacturing Summit

Since 2013, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce has convened manufacturing industry leaders at the annual Manufacturing Supply Chain Summit. In recent years, the pandemic prompted the event to go virtual, increasing accessibility for global buyers, suppliers, and partners to engage with Vermont and New England manufacturers and leaders. Due to the success of the virtual model, the event was once again held virtually this year, bringing together representatives from throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. The 2022 event was themed “Rebuilding Supply Chains and Workforce through Content, Collaboration, and Contacts.”

85 supplier participants and 25 OEMs, Primes, and Government Agencies held over 300 meetings between buyers, suppliers, and partners, representing hundreds of new connections between participants. Many of the attendees were leaders in the aerospace, aviation, defense, and naval/marine industries.

The event also offered a rich two-day agenda of seminars and roundtable discussions focused on new and emerging trends in advanced manufacturing for the aerospace, aviation, defense, space, industrial, and naval/marine industries. Sessions were moderated by Vermont Chamber Vice President of Business Development, Christopher Carrigan.

“The Vermont Chamber is proud to continue our legacy of championing manufacturing by hosting an event that is a catalyst for collaboration and innovation. A testament to this is the 26 Canadian, 8 Connecticut, and 8 Ontario suppliers in attendance supporting the Vermont Chamber’s work to build the Vermont – Québec Aerospace Trade Corridor that now extends from Connecticut to Ontario,” stated Carrigan. “We’re already looking forward to celebrating a decade of Manufacturing Summits at next year’s event.“

Senator Patrick Leahy and Governor Phil Scott both delivered virtual remarks at the event, celebrating Vermont’s leadership in the manufacturing and aerospace industries, and addressing some of the top challenges facing businesses.

In response to severe workforce shortages, the event also featured the “Find Your Future Workforce” initiative, a workforce development effort facilitating employer interviews on the virtual platform with University of Vermont and Vermont Technical College students, as well as Vermont National Guard members, interested in careers in manufacturing for the semiconductor and aerospace industries.

The 2022 Manufacturing Summit was made possible by our sponsors:

To join us as a sponsor for the 2023 Manufacturing Summit, please contact Chris Carrigan: (802) 223-0904, ccarrigan@vtchamber.com.

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Vermont Delegation Champions International Collaboration, Manufacturing, at Aerospace Innovation Forum

Vermont Delegation Champions International Collaboration, Manufacturing, at Aerospace Innovation Forum

In partnership with the Vermont Agency of Commerce and U.S. Commercial Service, the Vermont Chamber hosted a delegation of Vermont aerospace companies at Aéro Montréal’s 2022 Aerospace Innovation Forum. This work was in support of the Vermont Chamber’s ongoing commitment to building the Vermont – Québec’s Aerospace Trade Corridor to connect Vermont’s combined $2 billion aerospace and aviation industry with an $18 billion Québec aerospace cluster.

Vermont had the most significant state presence, with the largest delegation to date, featuring Governor Phil Scott and several Vermont businesses; BETA Technologies, Dynapower, G.S. Precision, Kaman Composites, Liquid Measurement Systems, North Country Engineering, Stephens Precision, Ten Fold Engineering.

Funding provided in part by the Vermont State Trade Expansion Program grant allowed these companies to participate in the conference and meet with large Canadian buyers, such as Bombardier, CAE, and Héroux-Devtek, as well as suppliers for new international business opportunities. This work is crucial to reconnect and rebuild supply chains following the pandemic.

In reciprocation, Aéro Montréal and a Québec delegation of suppliers will participate in the Vermont Chamber’s upcoming virtual 2022 Manufacturing Supply Chain Summit. Chris Carrigan, Vice President of Business Development, discussed the success of the visit and the upcoming Summit in an interview with former Governor Jim Douglas. Listen here to learn more:

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“The Wellspring Forum” Featuring Becca Balint and Mike Pieciak

Vermont Chamber Hosts “The Wellspring Forum” Featuring Becca Balint and Mike Pieciak
Kenneth McAvey, VP and GM, Fab 9, GlobalFoundries poses a question to Becca Balint.

On September 7th, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce hosted a new event, entitled The Wellspring Forum, to capitalize on the historic election cycle and further our commitment to growing the business community and the Vermont economy.

The event title was inspired by Governor James H. Douglas’ quote; “I am often reminded that the wellspring of Vermont liberty flows from Main Street, not State Street.”

US House Candidate Becca Balint and State Treasurer Candidate Mike Pieciak spoke directly to the Vermont Chamber Board of Directors and other leaders of the Vermont business community in a series of bilateral conversations moderated by Vermont Chamber President, Betsy Bishop.

“The Vermont Chamber is proud to facilitate a forum that allows Vermont business leaders the opportunity to hear directly from future decision makers on the issues impacting them the most,” stated Bishop. “While the economy is the top issue for Vermonters, we rarely see Vermont candidates speak directly on business and economic issues while on the campaign trail, and we’re grateful that both Becca Balint and Mike Pieciak took the time to engage with the business community in this way.”

Becca Balint and Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop.
Mike Pieciak connects with Kevin Chu, Executive Director of the Vermont Futures Project.
Mike Pieciak and Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The candidates spoke about several economic issues of top concerns for the business community, including workforce recruitment, housing, immigration, inflation, and diversity initiatives.

“When it comes to the Vermont economy, it’s clear that the lack of housing and childcare are holding back our state’s full fiscal potential. Increasing access to housing in downtown and village centers goes hand in hand with measures to strengthen our climate resiliency and physical infrastructure,” stated Mike Pieciak. “We also need to ensure revenue is flowing into Vermont, and acknowledge that other New England states market their strategic advantages. When it comes to workforce recruitment, our strategic advantage is quality of life. We need to make sure all people feel welcome here and are encouraged to call Vermont home.”

“I look forward to the opportunity at the federal level to work with colleagues to address the intersection of so many issues such as workforce development, housing, climate, and childcare,” shared Becca Balint. “This is a moment where people are reimagining work, and I believe we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to bring more manufacturing back to Vermont. When you have people building things in your community, it’s an economic benefit and it also fosters pride of place.”

Fifty business leaders from several industries and sectors, including tourism, manufacturing, health care, retail, and technology, were in attendance. The event was hosted at the office of OnLogic in South Burlington. 

Mike Pieciak meets with members of the OnLogic team.
Becca Balint tours OnLogic with Executive Chair Roland Groeneveld.

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Solutions for Recruiting and Retaining Workers

Solutions for Recruiting and Retaining Workers

During the 2022 legislative session, the Vermont Chamber focused on the workforce crisis currently impacting Vermont’s businesses. While there is no easy fix, there are a variety of new or expanded tools for relocation, training, housing, and child care that are available for employers to use as workforce recruitment and retention tools.

Recruitment

  • Worker Relocation Grant: Promote this relocation incentive as a way for recruiting out-of-state workers to recoup a portion of their moving expenses.
  • Military Retiree Pension Tax Exemption: Recruit retired military veterans with Vermont’s new partial exemption of retired military pensions which will exempt the first $10,000 of military retirement pay from state personal income tax.
  • Recent College Graduate Forgivable Loans: Entice students at Vermont higher education institutions to become employees through forgivable loans available to students committing to work in Vermont for two years after graduation. The program will be administered by the UVM Office of Engagement, and more information is coming soon.
  • New Americans: Offer access to support services available through a program aimed at in retention of recent arrivals. More information on the program, administered by the Agency of Human Services, is coming soon.

Training

  • Professionals in Health Care: Offer training opportunities to fill health care positions with incentives including grants, forgivable loans, loan repayment, and tuition assistance.
  • Vermont Trades Scholarship Program: Get the high-demand trade sector employees needed by promoting the Vermont Trades Scholarship Program which provides initial licensing fees, exam fees, and tuition payments for certification and degree programs to applicants and employees.

Housing Costs

  • First-Generation Homebuyer Tax Credit: Retain employees struggling with buying a home by sharing the new first-generation homebuyer tax credit program with them. This program will be administered by the Vermont Housing Finance Agency. More details are coming soon.
  • Home Heating Incentives: Help employees receive financial assistance to switch to lower cost, energy efficient residential heating sources. Some products and services are free to income qualified households.

Child Care Costs

  • Child Care Financial Assistance Program: Promote Vermont’s expanded child care subsidies available to a wide range of income levels as a way to reduce out-of-pocket childcare costs.
  • Child Tax Credit: Vermont’s new child tax credit for individuals and families with children under five will reduce the financial burden of child care costs for employees through a refundable tax credit. This new State benefit is a great way to recruit out of state employees with child care needs.

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Surprises and Fresh Faces in Down Ballot Races

Surprises and Fresh Faces in Down Ballot Races

Redistricting prompted a shakeup in the Chittenden County Senate Races this year. In the Chittenden North district, Democrat Irene Wrenner, a former Essex Town Selectboard member, will face off against Republican Leland Morgan, a former House member, for a Senate seat. However, in the Chittenden Southeast and Central districts, primary winners are likely to cruise through the general election to a seat in the Senate. In the Chittenden Southeast district, all three incumbents, Senators Ginny Lyons, Kesha Ram Hinsdale, and Thomas Chittenden, secured primary wins. In the new Chittenden Central district, incumbent Phil Baruth and current Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky easily secured two of three seats, but only two votes separated the next two vote-getters for the third and final seat, with Erhard Mahnke requesting a recount to challenge Martine Larocque Gulick.

In Washington county, incumbents Ann Cummings and Andrew Perchlik secured two of the three Democratic nominations, but it was Anne Watson who secured the most votes, a significant result for the current mayor of Montpelier. In Windham County, former Rep. Nader Hashim and Wendy Harrison won the Democratic nominations for Senate and will face off against Republicans Mark Coester (who is not being backed by the Republican party after he displayed alt-right and fascist imagery at a 4th of July parade) and Richard Kenyon, in the general election. Mark Coester has since announced his decision to run in this race as an Independent, and the party nominated third-place finisher Richard Morton to replace him on the ballot. In Windsor County, Rep. Rebecca White and incumbents Alison Clarkson and Richard McCormack won the Democratic nominations for Senate. Like Watson, White also secured the most votes in her primary race, another significant result for a first-time Senate candidate.

Notable House races included Chittenden-5, where Democrat Chea Waters Evans challenged incumbent Michael Yantachka over his vote on Prop 5, and won. Two incumbents, Republican Vicki Strong and Democrat Katherine Sims, will face off for the only seat in the new Orleans-4 district. In Washington-4, Kate McCann and Conor Casey, who ran as an informal ticket, secured the two Democratic nominations to represent Montpelier.

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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.

A New Normal: The 2022 Legislative Session in Review

A New Normal: The 2022 Legislative Session in Review

This commentary is by Betsy Bishop, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and Megan Sullivan, Vice President of Government Affairs

Each year, the end of the legislative session coincides with warmer weather, signaling peak tourism season just around the corner. For many Vermont businesses, however, this will be the third summer in a row that they are overwhelmed with uncertainty instead of anticipation. While elected officials resumed in-person operations at the State House, the Vermont business community is still working to determine their “new normal.”

The foundation of the Vermont Chamber advocacy this session was the stark reality that Vermont has an estimated 26,000 job openings and an unemployment rate of 2.7%. With 25,500 fewer people participating in the workforce than pre-pandemic, employers are going to unprecedented lengths to retain employees and recruit new workers.

While businesses continued to battle the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, including a constrained labor force, increased payroll expenses, reduced hours, 8.3% inflation, and endless supply chain problems, progress was made on many policy fronts due to the support from legislators who listened to our members and our dedicated five-person Vermont Chamber advocacy team.

The Vermont Chamber succeeded on most of our 2022 legislative session agenda items, including retaining Vermont workers, helping businesses emerge from the pandemic, increasing workforce housing supply, and recruiting new workers to Vermont:

Workforce Recruitment:

  • Over $3.5 million was secured for workforce recruitment initiatives , including $3 million for relocation incentives, and $500,000 to the State Refugee Office for grants to support increased in-migration and retention of New Americans.

Workforce Retention:

  • $1.5 million was allocated for a two-year pilot program for a regional workforce expansion system, $250,000 for a Special Oversight Committee on Workforce Expansion and Development and $2.5 million in forgivable loans for college graduates who commit to work in Vermont for two years after graduation.
  • Included in the final omnibus housing bill was $15 million for the Missing Middle Homeownership Development program to increase the supply of housing for middle-income workers. There are also funds for an expansion of the priority housing project program and funding to increase the supply of rental units through grants to property owners.

Workforce Training:

  • $15 million was secured for a Career and Technical Education Construction and Rehabilitation Learning Program and Revolving Loan Fund through Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to rehab decrepit buildings and creative housing units.
  • Additional funding includes $3 million secured for the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, $1.5 million to the Department of Labor for a Vermont Work-Based Learning and Training Program, $387,000 to Vermont Technical College for a skilled meat cutter training/apprenticeship facility, $250,000 for the Vermont Professionals of Color Network to provide business coaching and training.
  • The Department of Corrections was granted $420,000 to address vocational enhancement needs and $300,000 to establish a community reentry pilot program.

Business Recovery:

  • $38 million was also secured for business recovery programs, including $19 million for Vermont Economic Development Authority forgivable loans, $40 million for Community Recovery and Revitalization Grant Program, and $9 million for Creative Economy Grants.
  • Several provisions in a liquor law modernization bill will be beneficial for the hospitality industry, including moving ready-to-drink cocktails (RTDs) into the wholesale/retail space, permitting first-class licensees to sell RTDs, staggered vs. annual license renewals, and clarification for licensees to participate in the rare and unusual product raffles.
  • $17.7 million of continued savings were secured for health care premiums for small businesses using the Vermont Health Connect.
  • The manufacturing tax exemption expansion would exempt machinery and equipment used in integrated production operations and all ancillary processes between raw materials and finished goods, as well as some secondary packaging processes.

While there were many wins for the business community this session, the Legislature failed to deliver on key workforce recruitment efforts by not passing an allocation for relocation marketing or a full tax exemption on military retirement income. Even so, House and Senate leaders will head into the campaign season with a strong record of supporting the Vermont Chamber agenda and the Vermont business community. From our annual Vermont Economic Conference to our State to Main policy podcast series, to supporting the Vermont Declaration of Inclusion initiative, the Vermont Chamber once again set the tone for making Vermont a better, more vibrant place to live, work, and play.

Betsy Bishop, of East Montpelier, 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.

 

Megan Sullivan, of Jericho, is the Vice President of Government Affairs at 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.

 

Economic and Workforce Development Bill Passes Despite Veto Concerns

Economic and Workforce Development Bill Passes Despite Veto Concerns

The House and Senate passed a $99.5 million economic and workforce development bill, sending it to the Governor’s desk. For the over 100-page omnibus bill, the Conference Committee put in long hours and late nights to reach a compromise, including a $19 million VEDA forgivable loan program with a cap of $350,000 or six months of operating expenses, and an eligibility criteria based on at least a 22.5% reduction of adjusted net operating income during 2020 and 2021 combined. The bill includes $9 million in creative economy grants and a total of $10 million for the Community Recovery and Revitalization Grant Program, which  expands eligibility for nonprofits and municipalities doing infrastructure improvements and community development activities. However, the bill only includes a little over $3 million for relocation incentives and nothing for recruitment marketing, which was a priority for the Governor.

The minimum wage hike was deleted from the bill, but the unemployment insurance supplemental benefit provision remained and became even more onerous and expensive for the Department of Labor to administer. Beginning July 1, 2022, the maximum weekly benefit would increase by $60, then sunset in three years or when $8 million is drawn down from the UI Trust Fund. At that point, the benefit would increase by $25 until an additional $92 million is drawn down from the UI Trust Fund. The bill optimistically contains plans for the Department to meet this goal ahead of schedule, which the Department repeatedly testified is not feasible.

The Vermont Chamber worked closely with the committees of jurisdiction and the administration to ensure businesses will receive the support they need to recover. While many of our priorities were addressed, the bill contains absolutely no plan to recruit workers to Vermont, a glaring omission amid the severe labor shortage. Due to this exclusion, the Governor’s veto threat lingers as legislators adjourn.

Act 250 Bill Passes House With Poison Pill

Act 250 Bill Passes House With Poison Pill

S.234, a proposal to change Act 250 to allow for more housing, was amended by the House with a significant change in governance which the Governor opposes, jeopardizing it’s passage. While many of the permitting provisions in S.234 promote smart growth development, they do not go far enough to create the transformational impact on Vermont’s housing crisis that is needed right now.

Unfortunately, the House chose to add language from the Act 250 governance bill, H.492, rather than let S.234 bill stand on its own merits as a largely housing permitting bill. The proposed change to the Act 250 governance structure would establish an environmental board in which appeals to Act 250 decisions would be decided by the newly established board rather than the environmental court.

The proposed new governance structure has caused significant concern in communities and with leaders across Vermont. Mayors, town managers, developers, housing advocates, and community leaders voiced their concerns of the impact this change could have to make critical housing development harder in written testimony. By creating multiple paths for appeals to follow, one for ARN and one for Act 250, costs and complexity associated with development will increase.

With the addition of the governance language, barriers to development may increase rather than be alleviated through this legislation. The Senate has not reviewed the concerns raised by these letters in any committee and it is hard to see how adequate time can be given to working through this additional language as the session comes to close. The Governor is all but certain to veto the bill if that language is included in the final bill.

Vermont Chamber Pushes Legislature to Ease Restrictions for Business Recovery Grants

Vermont Chamber Pushes Legislature to Ease Restrictions for Business Recovery Grants

The Vermont Chamber testified in the Senate Economic Development Committee urging changes to the $30 million Bridge Grant program to make the application process easier so businesses can access these funds. With only $3.6 million allocated in 2021, the Committee appears willing to make changes to accomplish this goal. The Vermont Chamber aims to protect this funding from being reallocated toward other programs and supports providing the Agency of Commerce greater discretion to determine need beyond just a net loss year over year. Priority should be given to applicants in the restaurant and lodging sectors, which have been impacted most. The Vermont Chamber also urged the Committee to make this change in the first month of the legislative session to expedite the grant relief to businesses who are now faced with further impacts due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant. Read the Vermont Chamber’s full testimony here.