Vermont Business Roundtable Blog

Chairs Summer Column: The Dog Days of Summer

July 10th, 2014 by Union Street Media

The dog days of summer have arrived.  Days that are perfect for enjoying Vermont’s mountains, lakes and rivers.  Days that are perfect for lazing around and not thinking about much, days that are perfect for… summer vacation.

Speaking of summer vacation, that is what roughly 86,000 Vermont kids are doing right now – vacationing until the school doors open at the end of August. Vermont makes a huge investment in our children.  We invest approximately 1.67 billion in the public school system,  we invest significant sums  in human services programs to support our kids and a strong network of non profits that provide important programs and services for Vermont youth.  All total, we invest billions in a very small state.

Investing in our economic future is directly tied to investing in our children.  Improving outcomes and ensuring that Vermont children have access to high quality early care and education has been a priority of the Vermont Business Roundtable for well over a decade. We have made some progress but there is a lot we still can, and need, to do.  As the summer winds down, we will need to summon our courage, summon our intellect and get ready to dig deeper on how to take a bigger step forward  in improving outcomes in our education system in a way that is sustainable and cost effective.

The Vermont Business Roundtable will be hosting an Appreciative Inquiry Summit this fall to delve into the brutal facts of our system and develop thinking on how we can dramatically improve outcomes given the very significant investment we are making.  So, over the summer, between business and pleasure, I hope you find even a little time to reflect on this challenge, think about the persistent obstacles and create new ways to overcome them and I look forward to seeing you in the fall at the Appreciative Inquiry Summit.

Wishing you all the best,

CEO Spotlight: Exit Interview with David Finney, Champlain College

July 9th, 2014 by Union Street Media

CEO Spotlight David Finney

Lisa Ventriss interviewed David Finney, Champlain College, prior to his retirement at the end of June to discuss his parting thoughts on Vermont’s ongoing education reform and the business community’s role.

Watch Full Interview Here

Summer Time, Survey Time

July 9th, 2014 by Union Street Media

SurveyTimeTwo important surveys will necessitate your attention this month and your participation is required in order to make both statistically significant.

The Health Care Working Group, which is chaired by Don George, is asking members to weigh in on matters regarding the provision of health care benefits, health care expenditures, and attitudes about health care reform initiatives. This is an update to the Roundtable’s baseline 2011 survey, which seeks to understand any effects following the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the launch of the Vermont Exchange. Because of the technical nature of many of the questions, CEOs will need to enlist the support of their HR department. The confidential survey launched on July 1st and runs through July 22nd. Preliminary results and analysis of the survey will be shared with the board in September and presented to the full membership at our annual meeting in January.

The Q2/2014 VBR/EPR Business Conditions Survey will launch on July 15th and run through July 29th. In conjunction with our partners at Economic & Policy Resources, this survey follows the sentiments of Roundtable members over time and serves as a tool for analyzing and presenting insight into the Vermont economic outlook. As you know from participating in previous surveys, this one will require a very modest amount of your time to complete.

Thank you in advance for your participation in both these important surveys.

Welcome New Members

July 9th, 2014 by Union Street Media

L to R: Ralph Carlton, Greg Dewey, Dimitri Garder, Gary Karnedy


Don Laackman, Stephanie Mapes, Michael Nobles, Charlie Smith

The Roundtable is pleased to welcome one new member this summer:

  • Dimitri Garder, Executive Vice President, Global-Z International, Inc.
We are also pleased to welcome several new members of existing companies this spring and summer. They are:
  • Ralph Carlton, CFO of King Arthur Flour, who succeeds retiring Steve Voigt;
  • Gregory Dewey, President of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, who succeeds Jim Gozzo;
  • Gary Karnedy, Shareholder of Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer, who succeeds Jeff Johnson;
  • Donald Laackman, President of Champlain College, who succeeds Dave Finney;
  • Stephanie Mapes, Managing Partner of Paul Frank & Collins, who succeeds Crocker Bennett;
  • Michael Nobles, President and CEO, Union Mutual of Vermont, who succeeds Josh Fitzhugh;
  • Charlie Smith, Interim President of Vermont PBS, who succeeds John King.

We invite you to make our new colleagues feel welcomed by reaching out to them at your first opportunity.

Roundtable Supports Economic Development Planning [7.01.14]

July 1st, 2014 by Sherra Bourget

Roundtable Supports Economic Development Planning

Education is the Foundation


(South Burlington, Vt.) The recent escalation in discussions at the statewide and national levels as to whether IBM will close or sell its facility in Essex Junction have created an opportunity for Vermont to strategically plan for the future at this important facility, regardless of ownership.

The Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC) released a proposed Action Plan to encourage IBM or future tenants to continue to utilize the facilities and the talented workforce.  The Vermont Business Roundtable acknowledges the significant positive impact that IBM and this campus has on the economic vitality of the entire state of Vermont and supports the purposes of the proposed Action Plan; to retain the jobs that exist today while working to attract new future economic activity to this location. Read the rest of this entry »

Ventriss Op-Ed: Time to Acknowledge UVM’s Contributions [5.9.14]

May 9th, 2014 by Union Street Media

A recent Free Press editorial commented on the University of Vermont’s strategy of attracting top higher education leaders through its executive compensation practices. As a UVM alumna and Trustee, I feel compelled to respond. Read the rest of this entry »

VBR and EPR Release 1st Qtr Survey Results [4.15.14]

April 15th, 2014 by Sherra Bourget

Vermont Business Roundtable and Economic & Policy Resources
1st Quarter 2014 Survey Results Show Positive Outlook

(South Burlington, Vt.)  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, is the next generation of the Roundtable’s economic outlook surveys that began in 2004, and provides a more meaningful and predictive index going forward. The new economic indicator, constructed as a Diffusion Index, is designed to follow economic sentiments of Roundtable members over time, and serve as a tool for analyzing and presenting insight into the Vermont economic outlook, as a leading economic indicator. Read the rest of this entry »

Chair’s Column: Engaging Leaders Early and Often

April 12th, 2014 by Union Street Media

By Mary Powell, Chair

Will spring ever arrive, THAT seems to be the most significant question on the mind of Vermonters these days and there is a lot of chatter about the link between weather and economic activity.  So here is to looking forward to a sunny April, full of economic activity.

Last week we had a wonderful lunch with Chittenden County legislators and business leaders as Lisa and Sherra completed their statewide roadshow talking about the strategic plan of the Roundtable and how that ties to key issues currently facing the State of Vermont.  I thought it was a good exchange and it reminded me, so poignantly, of the importance of the Roundtable’s work and the importance of leadership, both formal and informal, in this small state of ours.

Without real leadership, from all sectors, we stand little chance of achieving our aspiration for having Vermont be the best place in America to do business, be educated and live life.  That is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about the importance, and value, of our membership companies engaging Associate members within their organizations . It is critical to the Roundtable, and the state’s economic success that we engage leaders in our organizations early and often on this important task of thinking about and contributing to the social and economic fabric of our state.

So, my simple request of each of you is to think about who in your organization might have the time, talent and capability to engage with the Roundtable and help build our future generation of leaders, a stronger state and improve our odds of achieving our goals and aspirations for Vermont.

Policy Making at the Roundtable

April 12th, 2014 by Union Street Media

By Lisa Ventriss

Someone recently asked me how the Roundtable reaches decisions around policy positions and when we chose to weigh in on issues, or not. And it then occurred to me that others may be asking the same question, so here the mystery will be revealed.

Beginning in November with the Board planning retreat, directors reflect on a number of inputs regarding policy issues that broadly impact all Vermonters, which ultimately inform and shape our policy agenda going forward: inputs from members; survey findings; recommendations from our working groups and task forces; data from a variety of sources; and interviews and conversations with knowledgeable experts from the public, private and non-profit sectors. That policy agenda, both Top Tier and Secondary Tier issues, becomes our foundation for work in the legislative arena. The strategic plan, which the Board has developed in the last couple years, and which we’ve presented at our regional membership meetings this winter, is our “North Star”.

That foundation, or roadmap, provides me with the right kind of directional guidance about issues the Roundtable can or should speak out on and, conversely, those issues that we cannot or should not weigh in on. Two key examples are: H.883 Education Governance Consolidation and H.552 Minimum Wage; the former bill we are strongly supportive of and actively working for passage and, on the latter, we have no formal position.

Over time the Roundtable has developed a position as trusted advisor on policy issues regarding PreK-Post-secondary education reform and we have formed solid relationships with members of the Legislature, the Administration, the State Board of Education, and the education lobby to gain important progress on key issues. Education policy is at the core of everything the Roundtable stands for, and we believe that H.883 is an important building block for moving toward better outcomes for students.

Minimum wage, on the other hand, is not a critical policy issue for the Roundtable. While we appreciate the benefits that will accrue to lower-wage positions in such critically important jobs as early childhood educators, we also know the burden that a sudden move to $10.10/hour would have on some businesses, and what the upward impacts would do to a company’s overall salary structure. In this instance, the Roundtable was neutral, yet we did strongly urge lawmakers to phase-in whatever increases they might approve.

As the Roundtable’s Founders suggested in 1987, members should “shine more light than heat” on public policy issues and we have taken that guidance to heart. Staying focused on core issues and providing trusted forums for members to engage and share perspectives is essential to our success. Please make sure you participate to your fullest capacity.

Education Matters: The Education Delivery Systems – Costs and Pre-k

April 11th, 2014 by Union Street Media

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

After a challenging town meeting season during which 35 cities and towns rejected school budgets, Vermont legislators are appropriately focused on education policy relative to saving money. The House Ways and Means Committee is proposing a four-cent Homestead tax increase and are suggesting mechanisms to limit spending increases in future years.

While it is appropriate to address the overall rise in property taxes over the last fifteen years, even in light of the 20% decline in enrollment, proponents of a strong educational system hope that cuts will be strategic. Certainly with the second highest spending per child in the nation at a whopping total of $1.5B, Vermont policy makers should be able to find some ways to cut spending.

However, finding strategic ways to cut is all but impossible with the current education finance system. School districts decide local spending, taxpayers vote on the budget at town meeting, and the bill is sent to the state. The legislature sets the statewide average tax rates for residential and business property, but locals decide how the funds are to be used. The legislature doesn’t weigh in on teachers salaries or benefits, on class sizes, or student-teacher ratios.

So, how does the legislature respond to taxpayer pressure to reduce spending? One possible way is to examine the education delivery system. H.883 envisions a delivery system of pre-k to 12, with far fewer school districts than the current 273. Might a delivery system of 45-55 districts forming larger operational and taxing entities provide opportunities for better educational services and funding stability? Many think so. The bill calls for setting a course to that end, and provides technical resources to address the important issues of school choice and voter representation within the new districts.

We hope it will save some of the costs of administrative overhead, provide for more efficient deployment of human and monetary resources, but most importantly improve student opportunity and outcomes. There are many details to be worked out, but perhaps equity of opportunity could be improved for Vermont children as districts grow to contain all kinds of schools.

In the meantime, a very important preschool bill may founder this year because with no control over the massive bulk of education spending, the legislature is desperately searching for anything new it can cut. With an estimated cost of $1.6m per year for the next three years, H.270 barely adds to overall education spending. The cost represents one-tenth of one cent in the property tax rate increase.

At the same time, the bill will make preschool available in 38 towns and cities, where public pre-k is not currently offered. In one city where elementary schools have twice the state average for children receiving free and reduced lunch, more and more is spent annually for special education, while proficiency rates in literacy and numeracy are dropping. The bill will allow children to have access to public pre-k, despite their zip code.

To those who appreciate accountability and who wish the state could increase the focus on outcomes from social and education spending, H.270 adds to the quality of public pre-k by adding evaluation and monitoring to the system. Adding access, quality, and accountability to pre-k is important, especially in towns where the achievement gap is growing annually.