An Update on OSHA’s Vaccination and Testing ETS

An Update on OSHA's Vaccination and Testing ETS

The OSHA emergency temporary standard was challenged in court, given a brief stay, and then allowed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, taking full effect in February 2022. Because Vermont is a State Plan state, Vermont has 30 days to adopt a standard that is at least as effective as what is outlined federally. 

Below are additional resources:

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on this tomorrow. We will provide updates as this continues to develop.

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Vermont Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance Updates

Vermont Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance Updates
The Vermont Department of Health (VDH) recently adopted updated COVID-19 guidance from the CDC including shorter isolation and quarantine periods. The VDH guidance also recommends an additional layer of protection beyond the CDC guidance, calling for individuals with COVID-19 to stay home for at least five days. Isolation can end on day five if symptoms and fever have not been present for 24 hours and with two negative antigen tests performed at least 24 hours apart, beginning no sooner than day four of the isolation period. Businesses are strongly encouraged to read the full guidance on the VDH website and review the below additional resources:

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Vermont Chamber Focusing on Workforce Talent and Growth

Vermont Chamber Focusing on Workforce Talent and Growth

By Betsy Bishop, Vermont Chamber of Commerce

The last two years changed our communities and how we do business. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Vermont businesses rallied, innovated, and pivoted. Still, not every business was able to stay open. And now, as we work to recover from the health crisis and economic downturn, a severe labor shortage spans across every industry.

There is a long road ahead, with business operations and consumer expectations permanently changed. The health of our state’s economy and workforce depends on the evolution of our businesses and continued support from government leaders. In 2022, the Vermont Chamber will focus on the most pressing issue that our businesses are facing: growing and retaining Vermont’s workforce to address our labor shortage.

In every policy discussion, we plan to evaluate the impact on Vermont’s economic and workforce growth. We will continue advocating for continued or increased support for: 

  • Funding training programs and RETAIN 

Training programs like the Vermont Training Program and Workforce Innovation Opportunities Act give Vermonters the ability to upskill and enter high-need industries like manufacturing, information technology, and health care. Vermont is also participating in the U.S. Department of Labor’s RETAIN program to help workers with injuries and illnesses stay at or return to work.  

  • Supporting career and technical education 

We support the Vermont Futures Project recommendation to strengthen the Career Technical Education system so that more high school students can pursue post-graduation career opportunities, including through alternative funding and governance models and integrated academic offerings focused on expanding the workforce supply.

  • Funding relocation grants and programs

The Vermont Chamber has long supported funding relocation grants, and this program is even more important now as the labor shortage puts pressure on an inadequate amount of workers. The Vermont Futures Project identified that Vermont needed 10,000 more workers in the labor force before the pandemic. That number has more than doubled. The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation recently released a report quantifying the effectiveness of the incentive programs, which shows that for every dollar spent by the state on this program in 2019, there was $66.26 in economic activity generated. The Stay-to-Stay program has also proven to be an important component of the recruitment and retention effort as the report further illustrates how these programs are a key component of the state’s strategy to attract and retain new workers.

  • Removing tax on military retirement pay 

In 2022, we will continue pushing for a military retirement pay tax exemption. Better incentivizing military retirees to move to Vermont would increase the diversity of our communities while also strengthening our workforce. 

  • Increasing funding for refugee resettlement  

For years, the Vermont Chamber has supported additional funding for refugee resettlement in Vermont. Welcoming refugees to our state is part of the Vermonter spirit, helps our economy, and grows our workforce when we need it most. 

  • Encouraging second chance hiring 

Employers have worked to reduce barriers to workforce participation, specifically in second chance hiring for Vermonters entering the workforce after struggling with addiction or leaving the corrections system. We need all Vermonters to participate in the workforce, and employers need support to understand the needs of these workers and support them as they return to the workforce.  

  • Supporting child care investments 

A 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. We will continue supporting investments in child care to make it easier for parents to work and to attract new families to Vermont. Available and affordable child care is not just a business issue – it impacts all Vermonters, and the Chamber will work with partners across sectors to find a sustainable solution.  

  • Supporting new housing

Aging housing stock, tight supply, and rising prices near employment centers have forced people to make difficult choices about where to live and work. We need to increase the overall amount of housing units in Vermont while also focusing on creating housing options for low- and middle-income Vermonters to grow and retain our workforce. 

  • Fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion

The Vermont Chamber is also focused on making Vermont an equitable and inclusive state, where all feel welcome. Doing so is necessary for our state and the only way to attract new residents and workers. 

And Vermont businesses are doing their part. Between the summer of 2019 and the summer of 2021, wages increased by 13 percent, employers got creative to support their staff and keep them healthy and connected, and businesses adapted to improve employee safety with PPE and altered work environments.  

This pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint. Our political leaders helped businesses across the state persevere, but the challenges continue. Political attention to Vermont business issues and aid for them must also continue. 

We will advocate and use our strengths to position Vermont businesses for success. In 2022, supporting our state’s economy and growing our workforce is paramount. 

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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Vermont Businesses Double Down on Digital Presence This Holiday Season

Vermont Businesses Double Down on Digital Presence This Holiday Season

By Amy Spear, Vermont Chamber of Commerce

Every holiday season, restaurateurs, retailers, and other small businesses encourage customers to shop local, with the shopping season formally kicking off with Small Business Saturday. As COVID challenges continue to plague businesses in all areas of operation from employee recruitment to competition for sales against giant online marketers, Vermont’s small business community is getting creative and taking advantage of the digital marketplace.

As the Vice President of Tourism for the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, I’ve witnessed our members doubling down on digital engagement to compete this holiday season for job recruitment, customer retention and engagement, and creative purchasing opportunities. Vermont makers and merchants have embraced an innovative spirit to meet their challenges head on.

Whether it’s maintaining and building relationships with customers or helping shoppers to experience the wonder of Vermont in person, developing a robust online presence is not only convenient and entertaining, but also essential. As Vermont businesses are geared up to launch marketing campaigns with traditional paid ads supporting their local newspapers, radio, and television stations, they have also turned to social media tools to entice customers to buy products or visit their retail locations.

For example, digital innovations boosted Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ ability to build and maintain relationships with its customers. Lawson’s Finest is known for producing high-quality craft brews, like their Sip of Sunshine IPA and unique maple brews. But as they continue to build their brand and reach, they’re using Facebook Live to regularly host conversations with their customers and answer their questions. And they’re promoting their “Tuesday Tunes” and “Open Mic” nights via Facebook Events.

Additionally, at the pandemic onset, they pivoted to online sales through their website and developed a curbside pick-up service to support their retail business which made some customers more comfortable not to have to go into a retail outlet. Lawson’s Finest even used their digital communications channels to launch a brand-new brew – Little Sip IPA – during the pandemic. By using creative promotional giveaways and scavenger hunts they were able to connect directly with fans to encourage them to try their new beers.

As with many specialty food businesses, Lake Champlain Chocolates maintained operations throughout the pandemic, providing consistent employment for their long-time staff as well as continued support of the broader community by using locally sourced ingredients like Vermont honey and maple syrup in their handcrafted products. Lake Champlain Chocolates has been hosting virtual chocolate tastings via Zoom, something that has caught on with corporate groups. They added new digital features to their website to provide a better virtual shopping experience for their customers and are promoting “order online pick up in-store” purchases through local Google pay-per-click campaigns, OTT (over-the-top) advertising through streaming video, paid social media, and local digital advertising like Front Porch Forum.

Deploying marketing tactics over social media to attract new employees has also gained momentum, especially with holiday sales ramping up. There are many holiday season employment opportunities, and Vermont’s employers are turning to LinkedIn, Facebook Jobs, and Indeed to connect with job seekers.

Vermont’s businesses fuel our economy by offering quality goods and services while at the same time providing good-paying jobs. These employers also provide financial benefits that in turn help to create sustainable and engaging communities. Our hope is that this holiday season, and beyond, Vermonters and tourists alike go out of their way to support our local businesses as they are an integral part of our greater community.

While supporting Vermont’s retailers, restaurateurs, and other businesses during the pandemic has been incredibly important, it’s even more vital to support the surviving small businesses now. There are plenty of ways our small businesses offer virtual engagement and shopping, so go find them online. This holiday season, you can support Vermont businesses in person – or right from your home.

Amy Spear

 

Amy Spear, of Killington, is the Vice President of Tourism 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.

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An Update on the Employee Retention Tax Credit

An Update on the Employee Retention Tax Credit

There are a lot of moving pieces affecting the restaurant industry. Here is an assessment with our federal partner, the National Restaurant Association (NRA), of the key issues and what is being done to keep the industry moving forward.

Employee Retention Tax Credit

Watch the NRA’s latest 90 Second Update for an update on the status of the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC). The ERTC was redesigned with input from the NRA and has the potential to be a critical recovery tool for tens of thousands of restaurants. But, as we move closer to the end of the year, many restaurants have yet to see their refund checks from the IRS.

Earlier this month, the NRA wrote the Treasury Department and the IRS with a series of asks to get the ERTC process moving and to protect vulnerable restaurants that will soon owe January tax payments. 

The NRA is meeting with Treasury officials soon and would like to walk in with a petition that demonstrates how important this issue is to the restaurant industry. If you have 30 seconds, please review the petition and add your name

Replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) remains a top priority. If you haven’t contacted your elected official in Washington, D.C., now is the time to do so.

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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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Investing in Vermont’s Future: Community Conversations

Investing in Vermont’s Future: Community Conversations

Thanks to remaining federal stimulus funds and a surge in state revenues, Vermont is currently in a position to make unprecedented investments in its economic future. The Legislature is gathering ideas at planned open discussions to inform policy and budgetary work related to these future investments.

This is an opportunity to meet with State House leaders and voice your concerns about the economic future of Vermont. Vermont is facing a housing crisis that continues to exacerbate the workforce shortages plaguing virtually every sector. These upcoming discussions with key leaders are your chance to share experiences and express your informed views about the future of local businesses in Vermont.

This could include discussing the impacts of increased taxation and regulation on business operations – particularly for small businesses, the ongoing challenges related to the workforce shortage crisis, and more.

These regional discussions will be held virtually. 

  • Washington County Conversation, Thursday, October 28th, 5:30 – 6:30. Register here.
  • Orange County Conversation, Tuesday, November 2th, 5:30 – 6:30. Register here.
  • Chittenden County Conversation, Thursday, November 4th, 5:30 – 6:30. Register here.
  • Orleans County Conversation, Monday, November 8th, 5:30-6:30. Register here.
  • Lamoille County Conversation, Wednesday, November 10th, 5:30 – 6:30. Register here.
  • Final conversation open to anyone across the state, Tuesday, November 16th. Register here.

To guide your remarks in advance of these conversations, consider:

  • How could the State use available funds in a manner that supported the existence and growth of Vermont’s business community?
  • How do the current high costs of business operations impact your ability to provide greater benefits to your employees?
  • How would additional regulatory burdens and taxation impact your business?
  • What barriers, regulatory or otherwise, are impacting the lack of housing in your community?
  • What additional actions could the State take to incentivize the in-migration of essential workers?
  • What specific investment could the State make to reduce your operating costs? For instance, the Unemployment Trust Fund was drawn down during the height of the pandemic and employers are obligated to refill the fund – would State investments that offset some of that obligation be meaningful to you?

Thank you for participating.

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Chamber Advocacy Around Employer Vaccine Mandate

Chamber Advocacy Around Employer Vaccine Mandate

This week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA sent its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) on the vaccine mandate for large employers (those with 100 or more employees) to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. While the rule could go into effect after approval immediately, it may provide a period of time for employers to understand the rule and come into compliance. Since Vermont has a state plan, the Vermont Chamber is advocating for the following three requests:

  1. We encourage the Vermont Department of Labor’s VOSHA to take the full 30 days allowed to review the federal ETS which will also provide time for employers to understand the full scope of the rule and align resources to comply with the ETS.
  2. We urge VOSHA not to add any additional requirements or levels of compliance as we anticipate this change will be a significant challenge already.
  3. Allowing varied testing options for employers will be a key to compliance. The constricted availability of tests and slowed timeline for returning results will have a detrimental impact on an employer’s ability to facilitate this mandate. The recent news that the supply chain for tests will be adjusted to allow for greater access is certainly welcome. We hope that the federal ETS allows for rapid testing and we encourage VOSHA to endorse that direction if provided for in the federal rule.

As information becomes available for the ETS and more specifically, VOSHA’s response, the Vermont Chamber will disseminate this information to employers to ensure strong compliance. We are proud of Vermont’s standing as a national leader in vaccination rates and will continue to do our part to maintain healthy and safe workplaces. If you have questions or further information for our team, please connect with our Membership Engagement Director Sophia Yager by email.

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EIDL Application Update

EIDL Application Update
The SBA began processing applications for additional loans of up to $2 million per property through its Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program on October 8. View the SBA FAQ sheet and apply online.
 
The SBA shared the following tips based on different loan scenarios:
  • Application was processed in DCMS 2.0: If a borrower’s application number began with 2000 and did not have rapid portal access for the original loan, it was processed in DCMS 2.0 and the increase will be as well. If the borrower has not already received their maximum eligible loan amount, they should submit their increase request to CovidEIDLIncreaseRequests@sba.gov.
  • Borrower has received maximum eligible loan amount: The “request more funds” button will not appear in the EIDL portal for those who have already borrowed the maximum amount for which they are eligible. Borrowers who believe they are eligible for additional funds should review the “How Much Can I Borrow?” question in SBA’s FAQ and may submit an increase request to CovidEIDLIncreaseRequests@sba.gov.
  • The borrower’s previous increase request was declined: The “request more funds” button will not appear in the EIDL portal if the most recent increase request was declined. Borrowers who believe they were declined in error or were declined because they failed to submit information or documents requested by a loan officer should review the FAQ and apply for reconsideration by emailing PDC.Reconsideration@sba.gov.
  • The borrower has a loan application or increase request in process: If a borrower currently has a loan application or increase request in process, including in reconsideration, the “request more funds” button will not appear in their EIDL portal. Borrowers should not submit a new request before their current application or increase has been processed. Doing so might result in their application being flagged as a duplicate. If borrowers are in the “submitted deal” stage of their current application or increase request, the loan officer working their account will give them the option to receive a larger increase if they are eligible for additional funds. If they are in the “approved” stage or later, they need to wait until their loan or increase has been funded and submit a new increase request at that time using the “request more funds” button in their portal.
 
For additional questions, please contact SBA at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov

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Thanking Our Building Bridges Fund Contributors

Thanking Our Building Bridges Fund Contributors

The Vermont Chamber’s Building Bridges Fund helps impacted businesses continue to participate in our advocacy, education, and marketing.

Contributions provide a dual benefit for small businesses and the Vermont Chamber, allowing them to participate in our programming and helping us maintain our powerful advocacy voice which is proven to help move all businesses toward economic recovery.​

The Vermont Chamber extends sincere thanks to all who have contributed our Building Bridges Fund.

Since we launched the fund in 2020, 40 impacted small businesses were helped, 34 Vermont Chamber members contributed, and together, we raised more than $20,000.

Learn more and make your contribution here.

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