Vermont Business Roundtable Blog

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.




The Chairs Spring Column: IF

April 2nd, 2015 by Union Street Media

By Win Smith, Jr., Chair
President, Sugarbush Resort


Photo Credit: Sugarbush Resort

A person whom I worked for at Merrill Lynch used to say that “he never met a rich pessimist.”  He was not just referring to financial wealth, but spiritual and social as well.  I have always believed that attitude is as important as, and maybe even more important than skill, and I have always admired those who see the glass as half full rather than half empty.

Another saying I appreciated when one encounters a bad leader or trying times was “this too shall pass.”

Much of what we see coming out of Montpelier in last year’s session and this is testing my belief in both sayings. Yet, I remain optimistic about Vermont and our ability to right the ship if we do not give up.  In fact, I believe that we at The Vermont Business Roundtable can make a big difference if we individually and collectively pursue some important actions.

Our success with early childhood education is proof of what can be done with focus and perseverance.

In 2015, I believe that we have to raise our collective voices as never before and help all Vermonters better understand the unsustainability of our current spending level, and the irresponsible actions of our legislative and executive branches. “Irresponsible” is a strong word, so let me explain.

Vermont cannot continue to accelerate annual spending at 5% when revenue is growing at 3%, and it cannot increase tax rates further on businesses and our wealthier citizens without suffering unintended consequences.  Such actions will result in less revenue over time, as those who can afford to move will do so, and fewer individuals and businesses will look on Vermont as a place to move into.  Art Woolf’s recent analysis of the outward migration of wealthier Vermonters shows this to be the case.

Lisa’s comment in her March PNR about the difficulty of some of our members in explaining why Vermont is a good place to do business is telling.  I agree with those that like the smallness of our state, the accessibility to our elected officials, the relative civility of our discourse (although this is eroding), the beauty of our environment and the friendliness of our people.  But those attributes alone will not create a sustainable, competitive advantage for Vermont. Other states want our businesses and our citizens, and they are competing aggressively for them.

In my opinion, we need to help our state run itself like a well-managed business.  For instance,

  • Vermont cannot budget increases and then talk about a budget deficit, and then pat ourselves on the back when we balance the budget with only a 4.8% increase in spending over the prior year. Vermont needs to take a Zero Base Budget approach and thoroughly and strategically assess everything we do and set a target of reducing our current level of expenditures.
  • We need to address the elephant in the room which, if not checked, will ruin our State. Yes, I said, ruin our State.  And, that is the unfunded retirement and health care liabilities of our government employees and teachers.  We do not want to become Detroit, but we will if these liabilities are not addressed soon. Our esteemed colleague David Coates has been warning of this for years.
  • We have to reform our tax code strategically rather than the piecemeal approach which is being used in this session.  The Blue Ribbon Tax Commission had excellent recommendations, and I believe their ideas should be resurrected and debated.
  • But perhaps the most important thing we can do, in an objective manner and devoid of political rhetoric, is to educate the electorate about the facts and the consequences of our current direction.  All Vermonters need this foundation of understanding before they can decide what directions and solutions to pursue.

Our initiatives last year were a great start. Now I suggest that we also expand those discussions within our own workplaces, with the hope that this effort can become viral if employees truly understand how the unsustainability of our current path will impact them.

I cannot move my business to another state, but I could move myself.  I do not want to do that, but at some point objectivity overrules emotion. I am still an optimist and I believe that our state has the ability to right itself before it is too late.  But it will require all of us to take even greater action than we have up to now. We will need to make some waves along the way.  I know that we all hope Vermont will be the best place in America to do business, be educated and live life. But, hope is not a method; we need to pursue the necessary actions to make it so.

Presidents Spring 2015 Column: Working Groups

April 2nd, 2015 by Union Street Media

The Roundtable’s three working groups have been focusing on our policy agenda since the start of the year: economic development, education, and health care. Together they represent the infrastructure of our state’s economic and social well-being and, together, mutually reinforce our mission to make Vermont the best place in America to do business, be educated and live life.

The working groups are also the starting places for our efforts to inform and engage the public. They are the forums in which we define the problem statements, identify the data and metrics to monitor and gauge progress, discuss developments, leverage networks and prepare our members to be informed ambassadors to the public. If you aren’t participating in a working group, then you might consider this a way to begin your own engagement! At a minimum, you will learn something. Perhaps you’ll become a passionate champion. Keep in mind that we are not necessarily looking for content experts; we are looking for committed members who want to shape the state’s policy agenda to benefit all Vermonters.

Here are the recent highlights of each group.

Economic Development Task Force, Chaired by Bill Shouldice, CEO of Vermont Teddy Bear
This group is focused on the challenges that surround: the retention of as many of our 40,000 college graduates and high school students as possible, who wish to stay in Vermont and work; entrepreneurship training; and, the creation of thoughtful messaging about what’s working in Vermont around entrepreneurship. A work product will be delivered to the members at the June membership meeting. The group will meet again on Friday, April 24th.

Education Task Force, Chaired by Leslee MacKenzie, Owner of Coldwell Banker Hickok and Boardman Realty
In addition to staying on top of the very important PreK-12 education reforms in this legislative session, the members are developing a type of report card that will include Top Ten System Indicators and Top Ten Student Indicators for tracking change in Vermont’s education system. Such a tool can be a helpful means of conveying complicated information in an easy-to-digest manner. This group also is focused on a June deadline for their work product, so make sure you plan to attend our summer membership meeting on June 11th at Basin Harbor Club! The next meeting of this group is set for Tuesday, April 28th.

Health Care Working Group, Chaired by Mike Walsh, CEO of Hackett Valine & MacDonald
This diverse group, which is composed of industry experts and health care consumers alike, is charged with monitoring and framing our responses to the myriad health care reform proposals that have been moving along this year. At the next meeting on April 21st, Al Gobeille, Chair of the Green Mountain Care Board will provide an update on issues.

If any members are interested in joining a group, please contact the office for related materials and a meeting schedule.

Pitch Imperfect

April 2nd, 2015 by Union Street Media

ITEM TWO: Can We Talk? – an excerpt from March PNR
by Lisa Ventriss

At a recent meeting with outgoing Commissioner of Economic Development Lisa Gosselin, she spoke about the state’s effort to craft a strategic communications plan; one that aims to greatly impact the growth of Vermont businesses and the economy. As Gosselin prepares to return to her roots in publishing, she generously offered to shepherd this project on behalf of the state and reached out to the Roundtable for our thoughts and input. The Roundtable falls neatly into one of four primary target audiences that have been identified for participation: Vermonters and Influencers who can not only help to change outside perceptions of Vermont as a good place to establish a business, but who can help with the internal dialogue about what the state can offer to those interested parties.

So it was both interesting and timely that our Q1 2015 Business Conditions Survey conducted earlier in March asked members to answer the question, “Imagine that you had two minutes to make a pitch to another business executive about why he or she should set up shop in Vermont. How would you address the marketability of Vermont as a home to business?” Never before have we had this many responses to our topical question.

It was obvious that a number of respondents struggled with this question and, ultimately, could not bring themselves to find the silver lining, as in the case of this one: “Very difficult to pitch Vermont as a desirable business location, in light of our high property tax, high personal income tax, lack of qualified workforce, aging population, and continuing legislative uncertainty about significant tax and regulatory impacts on business (e.g., single payor health care, and now proposed health care payroll tax). Vermont is now at significant disadvantage in attracting/retaining businesses compared to other states. ‘It’s a great place to live’ no longer does it.”

From another respondent came an altogether different perspective: “Excellent quality of life for workers, easy access to state and local government officials, strong history and culture of innovation and business startups, entrepreneurial environment and infrastructure, very easy to get to know other business owners and tap into expertise and experience.”

And from another, the shortest one: “Small is beautiful.”

Sometimes where you stand depends on where you sit and, therefore, each of these perspectives is legitimate. Finding the right way in which to describe Vermont’s opportunities for certain kinds of business location decisions, without denying our challenges, will take a special kind of communication. We look forward to meeting the challenge.

Editor’s Notes: Save the Date for the Roundtable’s Summer Meeting [Thurs, June 11th], when we plan to discuss this more fully

Item Two: Can We Talk is an excerpt from the March PNR. Check your email bins for the full edition.


Ed Matters: H. 361 – The “Big Bill” on Education

April 2nd, 2015 by Union Street Media

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

This week the Roundtable sent the following letter to the Vermont House of Representatives. While the current “big bill” in education reform is not perfect, it represents an effort to create a system’s infrastructure for future reforms.

Dear Legislator:

The education reform bill that will be considered by the House this week, H.361, represents an important shift in the debate over education quality and finances. The Vermont Business Roundtable believes this bill will improve student opportunities and provide for more efficient delivery of public education. We applaud the work of the House Education Committee, and we urge the House to pass this bill.

H.361 creates a system of accountability with stronger connections to taxpayers through:

  • Integrated preK to grade 12 educational systems with larger groups of students, designed to expand educational opportunities, achieve management efficiencies, and improve oversight and accountability;
  • Consistent financial reporting and student outcome data systems;
  • Required ballot language regarding per pupil spending, and spending increase or decrease from previous year;
  • Improved predictability through a fixed homestead base rate, rather than one that varies each year.

The bill also creates financial incentives and disincentives to support more effective education delivery systems through school district consolidation.

The bill gives school boards time to work with neighboring boards to find ways to work together in newer, larger integrated preK to 12 school systems. If towns can’t figure out how to consolidate by a date certain, support will be provided.

Finally, the bill attempts to provide more study and discussion around several complex areas of education reform, including funding adequacy, special education delivery, collective bargaining, and overall education oversight.

H.361 keeps students and taxpayers at the center of Vermont’s educational system. The House Education Committee should be applauded for its effort, and we urge your support for this legislation.

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

Green Mountain Imperative: a Call to Action for All Vermonters

April 2nd, 2015 by Union Street Media


As you may know, VBR and a eight other partners convened a two-day summit, entitled Green Mountain Imperative, this past fall on the state of affairs in Vermont’s public school system to bring together 200 participants representing a wide array of stakeholder groups.

While consensus was not reached on all things, one truth emerged:“Public Education in Vermont has reached a turning point. We must move forward with solutions that will give every Vermont student access to quality learning at a cost the state can afford.”

Based on that truth, and to serve as a visual “Call to Action” and bring broader awareness of Vermont’s state of public education to all it’s citizens, a simple video was produced. We encourage you to Watch it Here and then share it.

Latest Business Conditions Survey Discussed on Roundtable Today! CCTV Segment

April 2nd, 2015 by Union Street Media

RoundtableToday-0315-ScreenshotA respectable 70% response rate and generously honest commentary offered by members who participated in the latest Business Conditions Survey made for a content-rich segment on the latest Roundtable Today! airing now on CCTV.

Lisa Ventriss and Amanda Wassel, Research Assistant, Economic & Policy Resources, were joined by member, Jesse Beck, President, Freeman French Freeman to discuss the latest results and illuminating commentary.

Click Here to View Broadcast Segment or Click Here to Read the Full News Release on Findings.

VBR & EPR Release 1 Qtr 2015 Business Conditions Survey Results [3.31.15]

March 31st, 2015 by Union Street Media

1st Quarter 2015 Business Conditions Survey Results Show Neutral Outlook

March 31, 2015 –  Today, Lisa Ventriss, President of Vermont Business Roundtable (VBR) and Jeffrey Carr, President, Economic & Policy Resources (EPR), announced the 1st Quarter results of their joint initiative, the VBR-EPR Business Conditions Survey.

The survey, which is conducted quarterly, provides both a look back at the previous quarter and a predictive index going forward. The data for both the backward and forward-looking questions are weighted to the Vermont economy by sector employment and turned into “diffusion indices”.1 These diffusion indices provide a tool for analyzing and presenting insight into the Vermont economy over time through the sentiments of the Roundtable members.

The survey also looked closely at the non-weighted, “raw” data that the survey provides. The raw data can be easily compared to the national Business Roundtable CEO Survey, a quarterly survey of national and multi-national companies. The national Business Roundtable CEO Survey contains similar questions to the VBR/EPR Survey in terms of employment and capital spending. Comparing these two surveys revealed that Vermont companies expect a greater degree of hiring or stability than national companies, while both national and Vermont business expected a similar degree of capital spending.

1 Each question on the survey is weighted by sector employment and the diffusion number is formulated by giving each “strong positive” answer a numerical value of 1.0, “mild positive” answers a numerical value of 0.5, neutral answers a value of 0, “mild negative” answers a value of -0.5, and strong negative values of -1.0. The diffusion index numbers are then formulated based on these numerical values. A value of 100 would mean that every respondent answered “strong positive”, a value of 0 would mean that every respondent answered neutrally, and a value of -100 would mean that every respondent answered “strong negatively.”

The latest survey, which was conducted during the first two weeks of March 2015, achieved a response rate of 70 percent overall, and included a 50 percent or greater response rate from all but two sectors within the membership. The survey asked eight retrospective and prospective questions about the economic outlook, demand, capital spending, and employment. Survey results show that:

  • For the fourth quarter in a row, most responses to the overall question about the state’s business climate outlook were neutral to mildly optimistic.
  • More than half of respondents (62 percent) shared negative outlooks specifically with ease of hiring for available positions; and,
  • For the first time, the professional/technical services sector had the most optimistic outlook on expected demand and employment (58 percent and 50 percent, respectively).

The first graph below shows the diffusion index of overall economic outlook, which measures the level of confidence (optimism or pessimism) respondents have about different aspects of the economy based on the first question on the survey, and can range from 100 (where 100% of respondents answered “strong positive”) to -100 (where 100% of respondents answered “strong negative”).
For this reporting period, the diffusion index of overall economic outlook shows an overall decline in optimism from Q1 2014 to Q1 2015, indicating that Vermont CEOs continue to feel neutral to mildly optimistic about the business climate for the coming three months.


The next graph below shows the composite index of the diffusion index points for the questions relating to demand, capital spending, and employment in the next three months. The majority of responses were neutral or mildly positive, keeping the line steady between 15 and 20 index points (recall that the maximum index points would be 100, and 0 would be true neutral).


Also included in the survey was the opportunity for Roundtable members to express their opinions on other topics affecting their businesses. The greatest frequency of responses from members concerned the state’s efforts around health care reforms, including health care financing (including the payroll tax increase). According to members, such uncertainty has resulted in many businesses delaying investments in their growth strategies.

The next survey will be conducted in early June, 2015.

The Vermont Business Roundtable (VBR) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of chief executive officers of Vermont’s leading private and nonprofit employers, representing geographic diversity and all major sectors of the Vermont economy. The Roundtable is committed to sustaining a sound economy and preserving Vermont’s unique quality of life by studying and making recommendations on statewide public policy issues.

Economic & Policy Resources, Inc. (EPR) has been providing private and public sector clients throughout the U.S. and Canada with problem-solving economic research and analysis services for more than 25 years. Our professionals bring a broad spectrum and a deep reservoir of problem-solving knowledge and experience in applied economics to each assignment. We put our capabilities and experience to work for our clients so that they have the insight and understanding necessary to move forward with confidence. EPR has successfully completed assignments throughout the United States and in eastern Canada.

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VBR Releases Letter of Support for H. 361

March 30th, 2015 by Union Street Media

March 30, 2015 – Vermont Business Roundtable released today the following letter to Vermont legislators in support of H. 361, a bill addressing Education, Education Funding; Education Spending and Education Governance.

H 361 letter to House


Click Here to view pdf if letter is not displaying correctly.

VBR Releases Letter of Support for H.76 [3.24.15]

March 25th, 2015 by Union Street Media

March 24, 2015 – Together with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association the Vermont Business Roundtable released the following letter in support of H. 76 to the Vermont General Assembly. Read the rest of this entry »