For One Vermonter, Brexit Hits Home And Business
This is a story about remote working in Vermont, insect repellent and … Brexit.
Nearly four years after Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, it’s actually going to happen, officially, at 6 p.m Friday Eastern Standard Time. And for Genevieve Faherty of East Orange, Vermont, that means tons of paperwork.
Stepping into Faherty’s small, sunny home office does not feel like walking into the legal branch of an international business. It’s located off a winding dirt road on a hillside in East Orange, and at first glance, the feisty rooster in her barn, the homegrown produce in her root cellar and the freezer full of meat raised and slaughtered in her backyard all make it seem like Faherty’s main operation is food production.
In reality, Faherty and her colleague, Alicia Warner, manage the regulatory side of Citrefine International, which makes an ingredient in natural insect repellent. Faherty grew up in both the U.K. and Australia, and she runs Citrefine with her sister, who's based, with the rest of the company, across the Atlantic.
“We manufacture a naturally-sourced insect repellent, so something you would put on your skin,” Faherty said. “And we sell it to companies that then put it in formulations and brand for consumers. So we sell 'B to B' – business to business.”
Their product is known in the U.S. as “oil of lemon eucalyptus,” a naturally-derived insect repellent, sometimes marketed as an alternative to DEET. It's approved by the EPA, and while it's currently on the market in Europe, it’s still going through environmental approvals there.
And Brexit has made that a lot more complicated. For one, the regulators reviewing Citrefine’s product used to be in the U.K. Now, however, the company has to work with officials in the Czech Republic.
VPR's Henry Epp headed to East Orange to speak with Faherty, and their interview is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Henry Epp: When Brexit was first coming up in the UK, that there was going to be this vote, I’m curious, how much were you following it, both personally and from your business’ perspective?
Genevieve Faherty: The morning the decision was announced, I felt so bewildered and upset. I had been following it, but not as closely maybe as I should have. And since then, I've absolutely been following it. It has huge, huge implications for our company and just for industry generally in England.
Just going back to the initial moment that vote was announced, did you sit down as a company and try to figure out, “What does this mean for us?”
Yeah, we did. And Jacqueline, my sister, our managing director, we had a big meeting and we talked about the potential implications. We then drafted up language to share with our customers so that they wouldn't panic. Many of our customers are based on the continent of Europe. Europe is our biggest market. So for them to then be sourcing their material from a country that was not going to be part of Europe is a really big deal. And we had to provide them with the assurance that we were following, we understood what was going to happen. We would take the necessary corrective action so that they wouldn't be impacted.
And so it's now been almost four years since then. What are the steps you've taken to comply with Brexit and make sure your business can still function?
We've had to open a company that will remain part of Europe, which is in Ireland in our case. So we opened an Irish company. We moved all the registrations over. And we have also overseen moving the active substance from the U.K. to the Czech authority. The problem in the Czech authority is that they have a lack of resources. And so, for example, at the moment, they do not have an environmental expert. You know, it's a challenge, and it's one that I can tell you four years ago, I never would have expected having to face.
How much of your time has it taken in the last couple of years to comply with everything and figure out what exactly you needed to do?
It's hard to really quantify time, but I mean, we looked at just the last year, and if you equate that in terms of dollar value or euro value, you're looking at close to coming up on a hundred thousand, just in the last year. To me, that's pretty significant. We're a company of just now 12 people. You know, we've been able to continue focusing on some product development projects that we have and developing new markets, but certainly that resource didn't get to go towards the growth of the business.
I want to just ask about remote working here in Vermont. It's something we hear about a fair amount. The state has launched these incentives to get people who work remotely to move to Vermont. Is there anything that you think you could have more support for as remote workers in Vermont?
I've seen Gov. Scott's been promoting his idea of having an incentive for people to come here. And I think that's great. I'm very happy to see people moving here, because I think if you're a remote worker, there's not such a tax on the environment. You're a minimal impact. And you're bringing in, most likely, quite a lot of revenue in terms of taxes to the state. So I see that as really great.
I think where we continue to fall short is through the internet and cell phone connections in so many pockets of rural Vermont. We are so lucky, here in our little East Orange pocket, that we have this high speed for the last 15 years. I can't think that there would be any reason not to put state dollars there, in terms of supporting any companies that would be able to develop that internet connection and to speed it up a little. That would be nice.
I'm curious just how you're feeling personally as Brexit seems to actually be happening. It sounds like you were disappointed when the vote came down. For it to actually be implemented, what are you feeling about that?
Mostly just sad. I work in a regulated market. I deal with all the [European Union] member states and I see the dysfunction that is there. So I really recognize the shortcomings of Brexit and what a lot of people found to be frustrating, which is, you know, money going to Europe and being spent on bureaucratic things that they didn't think were necessary.
But at the end of the day, from a business perspective, it's so sad to me that we are losing this business trading partner – which can benefit all of the British citizens – for no real gain as far as I can tell. But at the same time, it's happened. Some part of me is kind of relieved that it's actually going to happen, so we can stop talking about it, we can just get on with it and deal with the reality of it. From a business perspective, that needs to happen.