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Businesses Pitch To Legislators On Opening Day

VPR/Steve Zind
Business owner Mark Sherman told legislators that retailers are still struggling to recover from the recession.

At the end of the opening day of the legislative session, about 70 lawmakers made their way across the street from the Statehouse to a hotel ballroom to listen to a succession of speakers in the first ever Vermont Economy Pitch.  

Nearly all of the pitches were from representatives of the business community. The ideas ranged from the general to the specific. 

Stowe business owner Mark Sherman called on lawmakers to make sure there’s enough money to promote Vermont tourism.

Sherman said retailers have yet to get back to where they were before the recession.  

“We have not yet recovered to that level of sales or profits.  We have to reduce jobs and reduce hours to stay in business,” he said.

On the other hand, representatives of manufacturing and technology called for the state to market itself less as a rural throwback and more as a great place to live and run a business.

There were some recurring themes. 

One was the need for access to affordable capital to build and grow businesses. 

Another was how to attract young workers to Vermont jobs.  Housing costs were cited a one obstacle, but several speakers highlighted a need for job training. 

The point was picked up by Vermont technical College President Dan Smith.

Smith said employers are eager for the college’s graduates, but financial woes caused by the low level of state funding are preventing VTC from meeting the demand for skilled workers.

“Without state support that covers at least an inflationary increase, I’m staring at direct cuts to the very types of hands-on, career-oriented programs that many in this room are clamoring for,” Smith told legislators.

Presenters were clearly aware of the state’s financial situation and argued that even ideas that cost money in the near term, were money-saving in the long run.

There were ideas for incentives for business to locate and stay in Vermont. Frank Cioffi of the Greater Burlington Industrical Corporation suggested that up to 10 businesses in each county be designated strategic employers and the state should focus on helping them.

Andrea Cohen of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility said public policy should support businesses that offer sustainable and livable jobs, which would relieve the burden on social programs and state services.

She said that policy should extend to the state purchases of goods and services. 

“Low bids do not necessarily account for all the costs. Public dollars should support businesses who provide quality health insurance, good pay, flexible work schedules and paid leave,” said Cohen.

Republican representative Carolyn Branagan, vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee was among the lawmakers who listened to the pitches.

“I took notes on my phone as they were talking and I’m going to go back to committee tomorrow morning, talk with my chair and find out if we can investigate some of these things because situations change,” she said after the presentations.

The event was organized by Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott and a bi-partisan Political Action Committee called Vision to Action, whose co-founder Heidi Scheuermann, is a Republican House member. Scheurmann considered a run for governor last year.

Both the organizers and those who spoke hope the event served to set the tone for the session as it gets underway.

An earlier version of this story identified Frank Cioffi as affiliated with the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce.  He is President of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation.

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