This commentary is by Betsy Bishop, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and Megan Sullivan, Vice President of Government Affairs
Each new biennium brings new energy to Montpelier and an invigorated drive for progress. A pivot point in pandemic recovery, 2023 is perhaps a year more anticipated than most. Record-high spending in recent years has been possible due to the influx of federal funding for pandemic relief. As that federal funding is depleted, the ability of Vermonters to absorb the cost of sustained programs will be central to our work.
As Vermont’s most influential business advocacy organization, the historical knowledge of our five-person advocacy team and our record of producing results makes us an essential resource for businesses and policy leaders alike. Our ability to navigate the political ecosystem as an independent non-profit organization while representing the whole of the Vermont business community is unparalleled. We look forward to continuing our legacy of collaboration with the legislature and the Governor’s administration to find common-ground policies that value the contributions of Vermont businesses.
Each year, our legislative agenda is data-driven and cost-conscious. Our advocacy team is determined to ensure the well-being of the Vermont business community and the vitality of the Vermont economy.
In 2023, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce’s top priorities are:
Workforce Recruitment & Retention
Vermont continues to lead the nation in addressing complex issues, but we are also experiencing an aging population and a declining workforce. By elevating our achievements, Vermont can attract more workers and retain our current workforce. To do this, we must utilize creative avenues to capitalize on our strengths and promote Vermont as a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Our social and economic principles are valuable, and we can strategically leverage our brand to include professional opportunities and innovative initiatives like the Declaration of Inclusion. We have incredible workforce development programs, but Vermont needs more people to fill the pipeline.
Increasing Workforce Housing Supply:
Recent graduates and seasoned professionals alike are deterred from working in Vermont due to the statewide supply shortage of suitable housing. The Vermont Chamber will continue our record of advocacy on solutions like land-use regulation modernization, accessible designation programs, the continuation of missing middle development initiatives, regulatory and financial incentives for the conversion of commercial space to housing, and the creation of a statewide registry of short-term rentals. The housing and workforce shortage issues are cyclical. With no single solution, we must make coordinated and strategic efforts to continue doing more than one thing at a time.
Amid ongoing economic uncertainty, accumulating costs for Vermonters will only fuel precarious economic conditions. Many businesses that survived the pandemic are deeper in debt and less able to withstand economic turbulence. Inflation, supply chain disruptions, and the rising cost of labor are already wreaking havoc, particularly on our small businesses. We will work to inform policy conversations on the broader impacts of cost increases and communicate that a heightened burden on businesses could ultimately result in fewer jobs, less revenue to the state, and less vibrant communities.
A key issue that will require this balanced discourse on the desire to spend with the ability to pay, will be childcare. While public investments are necessary, the economy cannot bear the full cost of the solutions all at once. The Vermont Chamber will advocate for the repurposing of the remaining federal relief funding for one-time investments, such as facility upgrades to increase the capacity of existing providers, and incentive programs to attract more childcare professionals to the industry.
Amid a nation more divided than ever, Vermont remains a leader in unity, particularly when it comes to agreeing on the top issues facing our state. If we can agree on the problems, we are confident we can find balanced solutions. Vermonters agree on the “what,” and we look forward to working together to find common ground on the “how.”