Vermont Business Roundtable Blog

Win Smith Op-Ed: Killing Us with Kindness [5.28.15]

July 10th, 2015 by Union Street Media

by Win Smith, Jr., President, Sugarbush Resort and
Chair, Vermont Business Roundtable

A childhood friend of mine had a mother who had a wonderfully loving and generous heart. Meals at their home were always a feast with large portions of tasty food, which usually included a pile of creamy mashed potatoes. She would insist that we have seconds before serving us a large slice of fresh apple pie with vanilla ice cream. My friend later moved away, and I did not see him for many years until I heard he was suffering from terminal heart disease. Read the rest of this entry »

Ah, Summertime!

July 10th, 2015 by Union Street Media

By Lisa Ventriss, President

all-work-and-no-playAh, summertime! Longer days and shorter nights mean more time to enjoy the gifts of this great state we call home. Sure, you’re the Big Cheese, but you especially deserve some down time. You know that adage about all work and no play…Make plans to get out into the natural world – land, water, or air; and don’t forget sunscreen, bug spray, and a rain slicker…just in case. There is a hiking trail, open meadow, lake or stream awaiting you with vistas that you’ll talk about for the rest of your life. Or perhaps you fancy the built environment – day tripping through the countryside to visit small museums, art galleries, and performance venues of all kinds, unique eateries, breweries, or wineries that now hold global rankings among aficionados. Or still, is your idea of a fun summer learning something new – a language, a craft, a new way to cook? To whatever and wherever your interests lead you, go ahead and just do it!

Here at VBR World Headquarters, summer is a time for the Roundtable to do its field work ~ getting out on member visitations to learn what’s happening in your world. If you’ve not been able to attend our semi-annual meetings recently, you are at the top of my list. It’s my favorite part of the job and the information gleaned from these conversations augments what we are hearing at our meetings. All of this filters into the Board planning retreat in late fall to determine our work plan for 2016. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.

For me, this summer will be more home-based than normal, which is not a bad thing. Having my spiritual home on Lord Dunmore’s lake means that I shamelessly abandon our home for three months of the year…the gardens, landscaping and yard work goes unattended and neighbors begin looking sideways at us. So, this summer, I plan to bring those flower beds and shrubbery back to their beautiful states, at least for this year.

Whatever summer means to you, make it a memorable one!

Economic Development 360

July 10th, 2015 by Union Street Media

By Bill Shouldice, IV, Chair, Economic Development Task Force
and President & CEO, Vermont Teddy Bear

EconDev360DiscussionThe Vermont Business Roundtable understands that due to its small size, entrepreneurial spirit and environmental assets the State of Vermont is in a unique position to accomplish great things. Win Smith, the Chair of the Roundtable has created an Economic Development Task Force that is focused on investment in:

  • Vermont’s human capital by creating and supporting a relevant and educated workforce;
  • Vermont’s infrastructure including not only roads, bridges, air, rail and telecommunications, but the state’s cultural and recreational infrastructure; and
  • Vermont’s business access to financial capital.

As part of that effort the Vermont Business Roundtable’s summer meeting included a panel discussion on the Vermont economy moderated by Chris Graff. The panel included Senator Tim Ashe, Chair of Senate Finance Committee, Steve Terry Political Commentator and Mark Foley, Owner and President of Foley Services.

The panel presented an overview of the economic history of Vermont, including the growth, plateau and decline of manufacturing in the state. The group discussed the differences in the economic realities of its various geographic regions. Finally, the panel spoke about the economic challenges and opportunities facing Vermont businesses now and in the future.

The Economic Development 360 panel confirmed the preliminary findings of the Roundtable Economic Development Task Force: In order to survive and grow Vermont businesses need predictability. A predictable business environment allows companies to innovate, adapt and overcome challenges. That fosters and encourages companies to create quality products and train employees to provide excellent customer service.   That results in investments in a company’s workforce, creating good, sustainable job opportunities that allows all people the opportunity to prosper.

The Roundtable does not take a parochial view on economic development. Creating a predictable and sustainable business environment cannot be done on our own. Through cooperative efforts with other organizations, businesses, political leaders and our state own residents we can achieve significant economic success in Vermont. A focus on the long term economic impact of policies and initiatives will allow us to develop a path to make that vision of our state a Vermont with good paying, sustainable jobs a reality.

Bill Shouldice currently chairs the Vermont Business Roundtable’s Task Force on Economic Development and is Pres/CEO of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. He formerly served as the Pres/CEO of the Vermont Country Store and the Secretary of Commerce under Governor Howard Dean.



2nd Annual Executive Leadership Series to Focus on Diversity

July 10th, 2015 by Union Street Media


How can a mostly homogenous state like Vermont possibly hope to benefit from the richness of a diverse population, especially when its growth is nearly flat? Although Vermont is the second oldest and “whitest” state in the country, 95% of our population growth comes from the immigrant community. Additionally, nearly 40,000 students of higher learning participate in Vermont’s economy and communities annually, sharing their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The Roundtable continues to strive to “make Vermont the best place in America to do business, be educated and live life” and it recognizes that Vermont’s strength of character as a cultural pioneer and home to vibrant economy easily lends itself to lead the way with a discussion on diversity issues. So it is with great pleasure that we invite you to take part in the 2nd Annual Executive Leadership Series Breakfast’s discussion on “DIVERSITY: How to Reap Vermont’s Rich Harvest of Culture, Creativity & Community” being held on Wednesday, September 23rd at the Sheraton Burlington.

MarilynTamJoining us to lead this year’s discussion is Marilyn Tam, Ph.D., who is an accomplished author, former CEO of internationally respected brands, and recognized for changing the face of global business practices. Ms. Tam’s personal story is a triumphant rags-to-riches tale of rising from an abused and neglected childhood on the streets of Hong Kong to immigrate on her own to America in search of education and better quality of life, to eventually serve leadership roles at Aveda, Reebok and Nike. Ms. Tam now helps groups, such as General Mills, Intel, Cisco to examine their cultures and see how diversity of all types are integrative and powerful means of fostering growth and harmony.

The Executive Leadership Series events are designed to be valuable professional development and networking opportunities for CEOs and their key team members and proteges, as well as influential leaders in the private, non-profit and public sectors. Last year’s inaugural event, featured Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and focused on “What’s Holding Women in the Workplace Back” with a sold-out room of 400. Seventy-five high school and college students had the additional privilege of a private panel discussion with Ms. Newsom, who was joined by Gov. Madeleine Kunin, Mary Powell (Green Mountain Power) and Kerry O’Brien (commando). This year’s event will also include a private session with 100 area students.

For more info on the event, sponsorship opportunities or to learn more about our speaker, please visit:



Ed Matters: H.361 Update

July 10th, 2015 by Union Street Media

By Mary Barrosse Schwartz
Executive Director, VBR Research & Education Foundation

Signing of H361_KidsH. 361, a bill designed to improve educational governance in Vermont is now Act 46, as signed into law two weeks ago. As many of you already know, this act is intended to move the State toward more sustainable models of education governance by July 1, 2019 that, among other things, provide substantial equity in the quality and variety of educational opportunities and maximize operational efficiencies.

The act sets a statewide nonresidential and homestead property tax rate and blocks growth of budgets past a certain percentage, but more significantly requires school boards to work together to create merged districts through an expedited or slower process. The act provides financial incentives and disincentives to spur local change.

Vermont debated governance legislation for many years, with the Roundtable actively supporting the bills during the last two sessions. While the act is not perfect, it does provide incentives for local boards to pull together to make tough decisions.

As implementation of this landmark legislation rolls out this summer and fall, VBR and the VBR Research & Education Foundation will provide information to support communities through a new website and a policy and student outcome report card.

However, implementation will be challenging. It is hoped that school boards will not simply address the new law by changing the borders of existing school districts. A public conversation must include the development of education goals for communities, including identification of the barriers to success for schools and students, and clear action steps to better results.

Another challenge is the way some Vermont towns pay tuition for their students to attend school outside of the school district. The new law requires district to merge with similar districts to form one of four main organizational types. In one supervisory union (SU), the impact could be that some of the member districts with high school tuitioning to a local academy are consolidated into one new larger district, while the SU also adds a new district that has two towns with preK to 12 tuitioning. The result would be a new SU with two or more school districts, meant to replace the existing districts.

In other education legislation, the 2015 Budget Bill included language to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care. The Governor’s office has reached out to the Roundtable to fill the three business leader slots on the Commission. Please email me if you are interested in serving, at [email protected]


Welcome New Members!

July 10th, 2015 by Sherra Bourget

The Roundtable is pleased to welcome new Member:
Bob Morgan, CEO, North Country Federal Credit Union

We are also pleased to welcome several new Members of existing companies. They are:
Al Getler, President & Publisher of FreePressMedia / Burlington Free Press, who succeeds Jim Fogler.
Steve Gibbs, Chief Accounting Officer of Keurig Green Mountain, who succeeds T.J. Whalen.
Jeff McMahan, President and Managing Partner of Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew, P.C., who succeeds Brian Murphy.
Paul Savas, Vice President of Comcast Business Western New England Region, who succeeds Associate Member, Charlie Tzoumas.
Ed Townley, President and CEO of AgriMark and Cabot Creamery, who succeeds Rich Stammer.
John Valente, Director and Shareholder of Ryan Smith & Carbine, Ltd., who succeeds Tom Dowling.

If you did not get a chance to meet them at the Summer Membership Meeting in June, we invite you to make our new colleagues feel welcomed by reaching out to them at your first opportunity.

Members Honored for Worksite Wellness Progams

July 9th, 2015 by Sherra Bourget

At a conference entitled, “Linking Employee Health to Better Business,” which was held at the end of March, Governor Shumlin presented awards to nearly 100 employers from around the state for their efforts to create cultures of wellness at their workplaces. Of those awarded, a number of Roundtable Members were honored.

We’d like to congratulate the members that we know were recognized:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont
  • Brattleboro Retreat
  • Engelberth Construction
  • King Arthur Flour
  • Sonnax Industries
  • Sugarbush Resort
  • University of Vermont Medical Center
  • Vermont Mutual Insurance

We applaud you and other members for your efforts to promote healthy lifestyles. Because of your investments, indeed you make working and playing in the Green Mountains a desirable place to be.

Fore more information on the Vermont Department of Health’s Worksite Wellness resources, please visit:

Over 30 Member Organizations Participate in 2015 Corporate Cup Challenge

July 9th, 2015 by Sherra Bourget

With team names like, the “Flying Fiduciaries,” “Kicking Asphalt” and “Cirque de Sore Legs,” the 2015 Corporate Cup Challenge 5k race saw over 4,000 runners and walkers, which has been raising money for the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports for over three decades. The Council supports healthful initiatives like: Vermont Senior Games, promoting workplace wellness and other activities that encourage health and fitness within Vermont’s youth population.

A shout out goes to the more than 30 member organizations that supported their employees to push back from their desks and get outside for some physical activity with the community!

Agri-Mark / Cabot Creamery Trapp Family Lodge
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont Union Mutual Group
Champlain College Union Street Media
Community College of Vermont University of Vermont
Freeman French Freeman University of Vermont Medical Center
Gardener’s Supply UVM Foundation
Green Mountain Power Vermont Chamber of Commerce
Hickok & Boardman Vermont Energy Investment Corp.
Keurig Green Mountain Vermont Foodbank
Merchants Bank Vermont Gas Systems
MVP Health Care Vermont Law School
National Life Group Vermont Mutual Insurance Co.
Northwestern Medical Center Vermont State Colleges
Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer Vermont Technical College
Saint Michael’s College Vermont Teddy Bear
Smugglers’ Notch Resort Vermont Student Assistance Corp.
Sugarbush Resort Vermont State Employees Credit Union

See WCAX’s coverage of the event, here.

If interested in participating in next year’s Corporate Cup Challenge, visit the Council’s website:

Ventriss OP-ED: Having the Courage to Change [5.12.15]

May 12th, 2015 by Sherra Bourget

Opinion Editorial by Lisa Ventriss, President

The good news is that Vermonters have had a very robust dialogue on education reform this year, which has moved us farther than previous years in terms of understanding of and agreement on the need for system-wide change. This is due primarily to the tremendous work of Vermont’s Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe who, in a very brief period of time, has created a database of “current state” information on every school in Vermont. The bad news is that so much of our school data is suppressed because of micro-sized schools, but the available data tell a very troubling tale of the students currently in our PreK-12 education system. The worse news is that we have an even more challenging population coming into the system and we are not prepared for them. Read the rest of this entry »

New Video Encourages Vermonters To Engage in Public Education Debate [4.13.15]

April 13th, 2015 by Union Street Media


Green Mountain Imperative Says Get Smart, Talk, Vote


[4.13.15] A new two-minute animated video from a Vermont coalition appeals to Vermonters civic-mindedness and urges them to participate in the ongoing debate about the future of public education in the state.


The video, created by the Green Mountain Imperative coalition and viewable at the coalition’s YouTube channel (, suggests that the future of public education in Vermont is too important to our state’s future to leave the debate exclusively to our representatives in Montpelier.


“Depending on who you talk to, Vermont’s public education system is either the best in the nation or near collapse,” observes Lisa Ventriss, president of the Vermont Business Roundtable and one of the Green Mountain Imperative coalition members. “The truth is somewhere in the middle.


“What we aim to do with this video is begin to help Vermonters better understand the challenges and complexities of the critically important civic resource we call public education.”


The video follows a two-day summit meeting hosted by Green Mountain Imperative in November, 2014. At the summit, 200 students, teachers, administrators, lawmakers, business leaders, and others collaborated to figure out how Vermonters can fulfill the promise of equal education opportunity at reasonable cost. The participants identified six areas of focus:


  • Building student-centered learning systems,
  • Establishing new accountability and metrics for evaluating school systems,
  • Simplifying education governance,
  • Establishing a sustainable funding system,
  • Creating a 0-20 education continuum, and
  • Tackling poverty through greater education and human services integration.

Green Mountain Imperative is a non-partisan coalition organized in 2014. Its convening members include:


  • Julie Coffey, Building Bright Futures
  • Stuart Comstock-Gay, Vermont Community Foundation
  • Steven Dale, Vermont School Boards Association
  • Jeff Francis, Vermont Superintendents Association
  • Scott Giles, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation
  • Rebecca Holcombe, Vermont Secretary of Education
  • Stephan Morse, Vermont State Board of Education
  • Shap Smith, Speaker, Vermont House of Representatives
  • Lisa Ventriss, Vermont Business Roundtable


The video was produced and animated by Urban Rhino in Burlington.