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.

How Vermont Businesses Are Helping Our Communities

How Vermont Businesses Are Helping Our Communities

Vermont and the nation are experiencing an unprecedented public health emergency, coupled with an abrupt economic downturn. 

Our thousands of statewide businesses and their employees and families across all industries are facing hardships. Even in the face of significant challenges,  Vermont businesses have shown compassion, innovation, and care for their communities. 

Below are examples of Vermont businesses and organizations helping during the  pandemic:

  • Northfield Savings Bank donated $15,000 to Vermont Foodbank
  • Darn Tough donated 5,000 pairs of socks to the UVM Health Network and is knitting a sock that benefits the Vermont Foodbank
  • Vermont Evaporator Company is making and donating durable, washable cloth masks to Vermont public schools to help them reopen safely
  • O’Brien Brothers is donating $20,000 to two Vermont organizations to help Vermonters in need to get basic necessities this winter
  • GLOBALFOUNDRIES donated tools and equipment to Generator Inc., a local nonprofit makerspace and donated $20,000 to the University of Vermont Medical Center to help in the fight against COVID-19
  • TD Bank thanked their employees with $500 pandemic bonuses
  • Vermont Mutual Insurance Group is contributing $1 million in charitable donations to help with COVID-19 relief efforts in Vermont
  • RunVermont is holding a Get Out, Give Back virtual run/walk three-race series supporting Vermont non-profits
  • Gordon’s Window Decor is re-purposing cellular shade material to produce comfortable masks and donating 25 masks to non-profits in need for every 25 masks purchased
  • Vermont Housing Finance Agency is accepting applications for their Vermont COVID Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program
  • ECHO Leahy Center launched two programs to support Vermont families: ECHO Virtual STEM Academy and ECHO Care and Enrichment
  • Lake Champlain Chocolates donated chocolate hearts to teachers and support staff in Chittenden County and teamed up with Vermont Creamery for a sweet collaboration to raise money for the Vermont Foodbank
  • PieMatrix in Burlington is offering free CDC-based COVID-19 back-to-business and back-to-isolation plans for businesses to use when opening or closing operations 
  • Vermont Community Foundation announced $380,500 in grants in the fourth round of grantmaking from the VT COVID-19 Response Fund
  • Vermont Teddy Bear is sewing more than 3,000 face masks to donate to medical professionals and is spearheading an effort to  help make 125,000 masks available in Vermont
  • Teknor Apex is manufacturing TPE resin that is converted into the straps for the 95 facemasks, breather bags on ventilators, and face mask respirators
  • Hops for Hope, a 5k run and walk to benefit the American Cancer Society, goes virtual to continue supporting cancer treatment and research
  • Vermont State Colleges System partnered with Vermont Electric Power Company to offer free Wi-Fi to the general public on the campuses of Northern Vermont University, Castleton University, and Vermont Technical College
  • The Community Bank NA New England branches donated $15,000 to The DREAM Program
  • The MEND Fund was created to respond to the burden faced by downtown businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic; supporters include Union Mutual Insurance Company, Vermont Mutual, National Life, Northfield Savings Bank, and Noyle W Johnson
  • Farrell Distributing and The Foundry at Summit Pond are partnering with Yealands Wines and Palm Bay International to create a “Raise a Glass” program supporting local healthcare workers
  • The Skinny Pancake is feeding Vermonters in need with free meals through their new food response program, ShiftMeals
  • Tuttle Printing is producing face masks to help businesses comply with state guidance and regulations, available for order by email
  • Farrell Distributing helped develop a coalition of Vermont businesses  to serve communities with needed sanitizer
  • Birchgrove Baking is offering “Sweeten a Day” boxes; customers can purchase a box of pastries to donate to hospitals, health care workers, and first responders
  • Fat Hat Clothing Company is pitching in to make protective masks
  • Sugarsnap launched a delivery service to help workplaces and homes provide sustenance and care as well as social distance and safety
  • Vermont Glove is pivoting to produce protective gear
  • Burton is donating half a million KN95 masks to hospitals around Vermont, to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, and to other areas where they are urgently needed; they have also donated over 1,000 Anon Optics goggles through Goggles for Docs
  • Dunkin’ is sending care packages to Central Vermont Medical Center, Grace Cottage Family Health and Hospital, and Gifford Medical Center health care workers
  • Bar Harbor Bank is donating to help adult education programs in Vermont
  • The Vermont Country Store is sharing advice on safely bridging the social distance and checking in on neighbors and loved ones
  • Green Mountain Power is temporarily suspending collections-related activities, including service disconnections through the end of April
  • Orvis answered Southwestern Vermont Health Care’s call for personal protective equipment
  • Awesome Graphics in Rutland is printing signs with COVID-19 etiquette reminders and thank-you’s to essential workers and health care workers
  • Distilleries around Vermont, including Green Mountain Distillers, SILO Distillery, Barr Hill by Caledonia Spirits, Mad River Distillers, and Smugglers’ Notch Distillery are producing hand sanitizer for those in need 
  • In a press conference on March 23, Governor Phil Scott made special note of the good work underway as communities respond to COVID-19 by Casella Waste Systems, Inc., Autumn Harp, General Dynamics, GlobalFoundries, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and others
  • Two Brothers Tavern is serving deeply discounted wines 
  • Yoga Six in South Burlington offered free online yoga classes 
  • Spectrum Internet is offering two free months of internet and WiFi services for new Pre-K to 12, college student and teacher households who don’t have internet or WiFi service
  • Effective until further notice, Green Mountain Transit is operating bus service fare free
  • In response to the pandemic, the Vermont Housing Finance Agency awarded $120,000 in grants to meet housing needs and is providing help through a new Mortgage Assistance Program to Vermont homeowners who have fallen behind on payments 
  • ​NPI Technology Management is offering web content to help Vermont businesses make remote workplaces work and free consultation to provide technical advice
  • Arts and humanities organizations in Vermont can apply for emergency relief funding through a new partnership between the Vermont Arts Council and Vermont Humanities
  • Union Mutual is partnering with Montpelier businesses Langdon Street Tavern and Pinky’s Deli to sponsor meals each week for Montpelier and Central Vermont residents in need
  • Consolidated Communications is helping students learn from home, upgrading networks so doctors can focus on patients, and providing tools to help employees collaborate remotely
  • Leonine Public Affairs created a thorough COVID-19 resources page
  • SKIRACK in Burlington donated googles to health care workers through Goggles For Docs
  • Burlington maker space Generator started prototyping personal protective equipment for area hospitals in response to nationwide shortages
  • The National Life Group Foundation approved grants of $100,000 each to community foundations in Vermont and Texas
  • Chroma’s filter technologies are letting biotech firms develop tests for coronavirus
  • Little Morocco Café in Burlington is serving free hot soup and rice three times a week, and Stowe Street Café in Waterbury is also making and distributing free community meals
  • Trent’s Bread in Westford, Vermont, is donating loaves of bread to local food shelves
  • The Vermont Institute of Natural Science is offering at-home education resources 

Retailers and grocers are making extraordinary changes to the way they do business in order to ensure the safety of their staff and customers. The Vermont Retail and Grocers Association is updating this list of what retailers and grocers throughout the state are doing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Services range from delivery to curbside pickup and designated shopping hours for vulnerable populations.

To support the fight against COVID-19, the Vermont Chamber, partnering with state and federal government agencies, engaged manufacturers to quickly locate urgently needed medical supplies and to identify manufacturers who could retrofit and adapt their operations to manufacture essential personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices, and life-saving medicines. Many Vermont manufacturers are stepping up to make medical protective gear.

Additionally, businesses looking to donate PPE (personal protective equipment) are advised:

  • You can drop PPE off at the Vermont Emergency Management building at the Waterbury State Complex between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, at 45 State Drive, Waterbury, VT 05676.
  • If you can’t get to Waterbury, you can drop it off at the closest State Police Barracks with locations listed here.

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce is determined to continue ensuring the well-being of Vermont’s business community during these unique and trying times. Please contact us if you have any questions, and access our COVID-19 Resources page for the latest information and resources for businesses.​


With Bold Steps, Vermont Could Lead Nation in Remote Work

With Bold Steps, Vermont Could Lead Nation in Remote Work
By Betsy Bishop, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids When we look years ahead, how do we picture Vermont? Where are our workplaces centered, where are our homes in relation to our workplaces, and how do we see working parents in our state thriving? Vermont is in a pivotal moment. Amid the economic and emotional pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is asking these questions and learning lessons about what community means, the necessity of innovation, and how to best live and work together. It is starkly clear that our personal lives impact our work capacities. Vermont’s working parents are struggling to cobble together child care while fulfilling their professional responsibilities. And in many homes across Vermont, lack of adequate broadband connectivity is adding stress. In this moment, with our attention on these issues, we have the unique opportunity to build our state into a work-from-home capital. But we are not in this moment alone. For Vermont to lead on this issue, our government and business leaders must take swift, bold steps forward – steps that move us far ahead and quickly, as other states contemplate this same opportunity. There are clear and urgent needs Vermont must meet to make leading remote work a reality:
  • Affordable access to high-quality child care for families who need it: A recently issued report by the U.S. Chamber showed that, of states examined, losses averaged $1 billion annually in economic activity due to breakdowns in child care. Even before the pandemic, three out of five of Vermont’s youngest children didn’t have access to child care they needed. Vermont emerged as a national leader with savvy investments in a stabilization program and restart grants to help child care programs safely operate during COVID-19. But there is more to do. Building a stronger, more equitable, and sustainable child care system is a vital component of restarting our economy and is essential to the future of Vermont. Doing so is also essential to maximizing our state’s workforce potential and attracting new families to live in our state.
  • Consistent broadband connectivity across the state: There is a connectivity shortfall impacting 70,000 Vermont households that do not have access to federally defined broadband. COVID-19 related restrictions and closures have demonstrated that broadband access is now essential for economic development. And with so many Vermonters working from home and students of all ages engaging in online learning, reliable broadband access is an immediate emergency need. Public investments in broadband should include public and private partnerships that maximize knowledge and capitalize on existing infrastructure, while planning for future technology landscapes.
  • Increased housing for low- and middle-income Vermonters: Vermont produced several thousand homes every year from the 1960s through the 1990s. By 2019, new residential building permits had dropped to 2,080. Aging housing stock, tight supply, and rising prices near employment centers have forced people to make difficult choices about where to live. We need to increase new or retrofitted housing units in Vermont while also focusing on creating more housing options for low- and middle-income Vermonters.
Vermonters want to be able to work remotely after the pandemic. That was a key takeaway from a University of Vermont survey conducted in June. To help our state reach its best potential, we must listen to Vermonters’ needs and connect the dots to make working from home a reality, while also taking steps to welcome future Vermonters and to support our working families already here. Let’s seize this moment. We can make Vermont the work-from-home capital of the country by investing in three essential areas necessary to make remote work possible: child care, broadband connectivity, and housing. ​

Picture 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.  
Picture Aly Richards is the CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, a nonprofit organization on a mission: ensuring affordable access to high-quality child care for all Vermont families who need it by 2025. She lives in Montpelier.

Leading Vermont Businesses From Relief to Recovery

Leading Vermont Businesses From Relief to Recovery
By Betsy Bishop, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce In the last few months, our world changed. Vermonters and people around the globe are reeling from the impact of COVID-19 on their lives, work, and loved ones. Throughout the pandemic, the Vermont Chamber has advocated for financial assistance and regulatory relief to help businesses throughout our state survive, helping their communities and their workers. With Governor Phil Scott’s support, the Vermont Chamber secured tax abatement, online lodging reservations, suspension of tax deadlines, and freezing of unemployment insurance rate impact. The federal government has also swiftly responded to calls for relief with funding for businesses through the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program. This is a great start, but we need even more funding for these federal programs and operational changes as detailed in our letter to Vermont’s congressional delegation. With Governor Scott now outlining a phased restart of Vermont’s economy and plans to reopen the state a quarter turn at a time, the Vermont Chamber is turning our attention to positive economic activity in four stages: relief, restart, recovery, and reimagining. We are eager to reopen Vermont businesses with clear guidance for employers while also ensuring that new constraints on operations are feasible. We asked the Governor and his economic recovery task force to include the Vermont Chamber in decision-making prior to implementation. We will provide immediate feedback from businesses so that as we reopen, we help protect the health of workers and customers while also establishing appropriate guidelines for employers related to liability, privacy, and costs. As we enter recovery, we urge state leaders to consider these initial recommendations:
  • Full abatement of February and March meals and rooms tax obligations. Abatement will provide Vermont’s hospitality sector with liquidity in a time when cash is desperately needed to help hire back employees, reopen, and remain open.
  • Waive or delay certain professional licensing fees. This financial assistance would help businesses resume normal operations, especially in sectors unable to operate or able to operate only in an extremely limited manner during the crisis.
  • Ensure employer experience ratings are not negatively impacted during the next several months, maintaining the current freeze on employers’ unemployment insurance experience ratings through December 31, 2020.
  • Maintain enacted changes to alcohol sales regulations, including those authorizing takeout of certain alcoholic beverages. Maintaining this change will provide restaurants with a small but reliable revenue source during the next several months of uncertainty.
  • Identify an economic indicator to use as a trigger for a temporary halt for minimum wage increases in the event of a prolonged economic downturn. If this economic trigger is hit, businesses should be relieved of the obligation of increasing payroll output during decreased business activity. If the economy recovers and remains strong, no changes to current minimum wage law should be implemented.
As we reopen and recover, the Vermont Chamber will continue to put forth suggestions to help businesses throughout our state. We will also monitor the newly created Vermont Futures Project COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard for changing key economic indicators. Additionally, I have heard from many businesses and community leaders, and agree, that amid this crisis, we need to reimagine Vermont’s economic future. Though less immediate, we encourage the Governor to investigate how this crisis will transform us and how we can emerge from this more resilient, innovative, and sustainable. As schools closed and residents learned to work from home, Vermont’s uneven broadband infrastructure was highlighted. We need to tackle this issue and others to create economic resiliency in our rural communities, bolster our education system, and attract a remote workforce. With improvements, Vermont could position itself as a work-from-home capital with world-class outdoor recreation, walkable downtowns, peaceful communities, and ample public space. To help this effort, the Vermont Chamber launched the Solutions Hub, an online suggestion box for policy solutions for economic recovery and ideas for securing a strong economic path forward in Vermont. Over the next few months, we will gather these suggestions, share them with the Governor’s economic recovery task force, and publish them. At the Vermont Chamber, we believe that reopening the economy should be based on guidance from public health experts, and we support Governor Scott’s reliance on science and data to make these difficult decisions. We look forward to partnering in these efforts as we begin on the road to recovery. We are in this together.
Picture ​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.