Chairs Column: As my Two-Year Term as Your Chair Comes to a Close

by Win Smith, Chair

My two year term as Chair of our organization is coming to a close in January.  It has been an honor and a privilege to serve VBR and to better appreciate what an impressive organization we have and what a terrific staff we have in Lisa and Sherra.

I am looking forward to Michael Seaver’s assumption of the Chair in January and equally delighted that Mark Foley will be stepping into the Vice Chair role.  With a new Governor, new Legislative leadership and many news faces in Montpelier, it will be critically important that we help to keep a spotlight on some of the important issues facing our State and our economy.  Vermont has been extremely dependent upon Federal Funding for many years.  With a Trump Presidency, we do not know to what extent we will be able to continue to count on that level of funding.  While some may argue differently, it is clear to me that Montpelier has not exercised adequate fiscal discipline over the past several years.  Government expenditures have grown faster than our economy, our labor force has shrunk, our unfunded public pension liabilities have grown and wealthier taxpayers are moving their residency with increased frequency.

The Vermont Business Roundtable has not historically been an active lobbying voice in Montpelier.  We have chosen our focus carefully.  Early Childhood Education has been a passion of ours, and we have been effective in moving this along.  Our work with Rebecca Holcombe on Act 46 was important and fruitful.  However, given the current environment and the critical issues facing our state, I wonder if the time has come for us to be more proactive in Montpelier helping our Legislative bodies better understand the importance of Vermont businesses, helping them to better understand all that we do and many of the challenges that we are presented with by being domiciled in Vermont.   And advocating in a louder voice some of our positions.  I am not recommending that we pursue this course, but I do think it is timely to discuss whether we should become more active, as is the case of some other State Roundtables.

As the Holidays approach as well as a new administrations in Washington and Montpelier, I think it always helpful to remember to be grateful for the wonderful country and the great State that we are part of.  Democracy is a messy process, but depends upon the active participation of its citizens. Recently the conversation has become less civil and less fact-based.  As business leaders, I think that we have an obligation to raise our voices about important matters and to do so in a fashion that fosters open discussion and debate, and in a done in a voice that is always respectful. Our words matter and need to be heard.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Chair.  I look forward to supporting the mission of the Roundtable in the years ahead, and I wish you all the very best for the Holiday Season and a snowy New Year.