Lisa Ventriss’ Abridged Remarks to Membership

Greetings members and Happy New Year! And welcome to our new and returning members, invited guests, and newest staff addition to the Roundtable, Mary Anne Sheahan.

I’d also like to recognize two distinguished groups today: former Board Chairs Staige Davis, Four Seasons Sotheby’s; Bill Stritzler, Smugglers’ Notch Resort; and, Tim Volk, Member Emeritus. Also representatives of our Founding Member Companies, or their survivor companies: Pennie Beach and daughter, Sarah Morris, Basin Harbor Club; Betsy Bishop, VT Chamber of Commerce; Paul Ode, Downs Rachlin Martin; Michael Seaver, Peoples United Bank (formerly Chittenden Bank); Tom Sullivan, The University of Vermont; and, Mike Walsh, NFP (formerly Hackett Valine & MacDonald). Thank you all most sincerely for your sustained involvement and commitment to the Roundtable.

And to those of you who are newish, we sincerely hope that you will be inspired by these long-standing relationships, and also find the Roundtable to be company worth keeping for the long haul.

Chair Michael Seaver appropriately used his time to highlight some of the measurable accomplishments of the Roundtable during 2017, and you’ve heard another layer of granularity directly from the task force leadership. So, I’d simply like to add my appreciation to the efforts of so many members who helped bring to fruition that body of work.

We say it a lot, but I’ll say it again. Member engagement is the life blood of any organization, but your direct participation is vital to our ability to advance our mission, to be dependable and effective partners, and to achieve the goals we desire for all Vermonters. Thank you, again, very much.

Last November the board went into retreat, with the help of David Bradbury as facilitator, to spend time thinking about the future and “spit balling” ways in which we, collectively as the Vermont Business Roundtable, might shape it. And to brainstorm how we might leverage our reputation and resources to influence public opinion toward improving the state’s business climate.

There was agreement that our vision is good and aspirational – “to make Vermont the best place in America to do business, be educated, and live life.” But, directors also expressed concern that a vocal minority are driving the state’s business climate; that it has deteriorated over the last five years; and, that the mindset around the business climate in VT is very different (read “more challenging’) from other parts of the country.

We see these concerns consistently expressed in our quarterly VBR-EPR Business Conditions Surveys, so I’m not telling you anything new. Members have been maintaining a “neutral to slightly positive” outlook on the business climate since Q42013. That is 16 quarters, four years of being stuck in neutral.

Consequently, the board has decided to focus its considerable attention on this very issue beginning in 2018, and we, now, have the obligation to spend this year organizing ourselves to rally into action.

The Vermont Business Roundtable was founded to be that voice, “to bring business leadership perspective to the formulation of public policy in Vermont” and to focus “on those strong economic, social, and political forces operating in the world and nation, which must be understood and directed for the benefit of Vermont.” So let us be reminded of and return to our roots.

In the December 1987 press release announcing the launch of the Roundtable, Governor Tom Salmon, the Roundtable’s first chairperson, described the organization as being committed to “promoting the economic vitality of the state without sacrificing its unique environmental qualities.” So, in keeping with our core principles, the Board has directed the Roundtable to create a plan to:

  • Identify those policy priorities and programmatic initiatives that shape Vermont’s business climate;
  • Clarify our employer messages and amplify our voice around those priorities;
  • Create cohesive business and stakeholder alliances that expand and maximize the impacts of our efforts; and,
  • Engage directly with policymakers in the advocacy of our policy recommendations.

But in order to be successful and before we can take mobilize, we need to do a little practical housekeeping this year:

  • To fill in the gaps in our membership to ensure adequate representation in VT’s geographic and industry sectors. This means work for the Governance Committee, and we invite members to identify influential community and business leaders in your regions for possible membership;
  • To define the higher order narrative that drives our agenda and explains why these issues are important. This will require further work by the Board with input from the membership; and,
  • To prepare the membership to be effective advocates. This will require clear and concise information about our policy goals; forging of new critical relationships and breathing new life into old alliances, to advance the work; and, development of consistent messaging to a variety of audiences.

In the coming weeks we will begin this important new undertaking. And, here’s the Call to Action. Again, I will be asking you to step forward to lend your significant knowledge and seasoned perspectives to this effort. If you, too, are energized by this undertaking to improve the state’s business climate, then reach out to me. There’s a seat at the table for you.

Thank you!