A Letter to Vermonters in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak [3.23.20]

Dear Vermonters,

As members of the Vermont Business Roundtable, we recognize the opportunity and obligation we have, to do our share to alleviate the severity of disruption to our economic and social fabric.

 We believe that limiting the impact of the COVID-19 health crisis is the most important step we should take at this time. Doing so will reduce the public health threat that must be addressed before our economy will be restored – at the state and national levels – to a new normal. Our extremely talented health care professionals and institutions are working in a coordinated fashion to serve the public. Their request of us is straightforward: 1) prepare for the long term, this won’t disappear in two weeks; 2) stay home; and, 3) for those who can’t stay home, to maximize healthy and sterile protocols. We urge all Vermonters to honor their requests. We can flatten the severity and duration of this outbreak to the benefit for everyone, if we respect the social distancing guidance of health care professionals.

We believe that our economic crisis will have a disproportionate impact on lower income wage earners.  This will result in significant and disproportionate impacts on their health and vitality, in turn. A struggling economy also means that other systems are weakened as a result, including education, health care, and workforce pipelines. We respond by asking employers who are laying off workers to engage with the Roundtable’s Vermont Talent Pipeline. Through this project, we can help match that talent with employers seeking to increase their seasonal workforces or respond to spikes in demand for products and services. In addition, Roundtable members are acting quickly and decisively to protect vulnerable Vermonters through efforts such as suspension of debt collection for consumers, ceasing utility disconnections, and deferring payments on agricultural loans. And, we will be holding member-wide calls on a regular basis to find more ways, within and outside our membership, to help those most impacted.

We believe that sharing our corporate and community successes will benefit the entire state. We will communicate through a variety of platforms the successful adjustments being made by our member companies, so that others might benefit as well. During our last state emergency – Tropical Storm Irene – Vermonters learned that we are stronger when we act together, Vermont Strong, in fact. We now find ourselves in a much more urgent situation, and our survival demands that we dig deep within ourselves again.

We believe that we can do this. We are Vermont Strong.

Sincerely,
The CEO Members and Staff of the Vermont Business Roundtable

** Visit our COVID-19 Response Page for Related Resources **

Contacts: Lisa Ventriss, President, Vermont Business Roundtable
Mary Anne Sheahan, Executive Director, Vermont Talent Pipeline

David Coates Op-Ed: State Retirement Plans Need a Robust Stress Test……Now! [3.10.20]

by David Coates, Managing Parter, KPMG (Retired)

Vermont’s $4.6 billion liability for the state workers and teachers pensions and retiree health care benefits (OPEB) increased by $171 million for this past year ended June 30, 2019, and over 110 percent since 2008. This increase was despite continued assurances by policymakers that they had a plan to pay off these obligations over the next 20 years.

Certainly, there is no evidence to date to corroborate the state’s claim, without some combination of increasing taxes, reducing benefits or cutting existing programs, which the state has been reluctant to do. At this point in time, policymakers need an independent analysis of these benefit plans. Continue reading “David Coates Op-Ed: State Retirement Plans Need a Robust Stress Test……Now! [3.10.20]”

Mark Crow Op-Ed: A Major Issue is Lurking

By Mark Crow, President at Tenth Crow Creative and

Chair, Pension and Health Benefits Reform Task Force, Vermont Business Roundtable

 

While Town Meeting Day has evolved over time, its purpose of giving community members a chance to be heard about the issues affecting their lives has not changed. Of course, in order for community members to express their views, they must be aware of the issues impacting them. Unfortunately, there is a major issue lurking that impacts all Vermonters, yet is not well known or understood, not only by Vermont taxpayers, but also by some of our legislative representatives.

I’m referring to the continually increasing taxpayer liability for the State workers’ and teachers’ pension and retiree healthcare plans. This Town Meeting Day, I urge you to ask your state legislators what they are doing to address Vermont’s third largest debt (only behind Medicare and non-Medicare social services), and if they know that: Continue reading “Mark Crow Op-Ed: A Major Issue is Lurking”

New Leadership Elected for 2020 [1.17.20]

At its 33rd Annual Membership Meeting held January 9th at Delta Hotels Marriott, the Vermont Business Roundtable elected new directors to their first three-year term: Renee Bourget Place, KPMG; Jay Fayette, PC Construction; Scott Fewell, Liquid Measurement Systems; and, Tom McHenry, Vermont Law School. Elected to his second three-year term was Tom Dunn, VELCO. Continue reading “New Leadership Elected for 2020 [1.17.20]”

Vermont Business Roundtable Releases New Policy Paper [1.15.20]

Policy Options for Vermont Pension and Health Care Retirement Systems

(South Burlington, Vt.)  Today, Lisa Ventriss, President of Vermont Business Roundtable (Roundtable) and Mark Crow, President of Tenth Crow Creative and Chair of the Pension Reform and Health Benefits Task Force, announced the release of its latest policy paper entitled, “Policy Options for Vermont State Employee and Teacher Pension and Health Care Retirement Systems.” Click here for report. Continue reading “Vermont Business Roundtable Releases New Policy Paper [1.15.20]”

VBR & EPR Release Qtr 3 2019 Business Conditions Survey [9.9.19]

(South Burlington, Vt.)  Today, Lisa Ventriss, President of Vermont Business Roundtable (VBR) and Jeffrey Carr, President, Economic & Policy Resources (EPR), announced the Q3 of 2019 outlook results of their joint initiative, the VBR/EPR Business Conditions Survey and Index.

Overall Findings

The latest survey, which was conducted during July of 2019, achieved a response rate of 63 percent overall.  Survey results show that: Continue reading “VBR & EPR Release Qtr 3 2019 Business Conditions Survey [9.9.19]”

Ventriss Op-Ed: Leading with Courage to Change

by Lisa Ventriss, President

Early in my time at the Vermont Business Roundtable (Roundtable) we authored a report titled Having the Courage to Change; it targeted our state’s looming workforce crisis. That was 2006. Children who were entering kindergarten that year are now graduating from high-school and the workforce crisis is no longer looming. As every employer knows, it’s here. And last week, a second major credit rating agency downgraded Vermont’s bond rating, citing the state’s aging population and shrinking workforce.

The Roundtable has been sounding the alarm for years about the workforce crisis and, frankly, we’ve moved from crisis mode into action. Though the workforce crisis surrounds us, the opportunity to invest in solutions is also within reach. And one of those solutions is high-quality child care. Continue reading “Ventriss Op-Ed: Leading with Courage to Change”

VBR & EPR Release Qtr 2 2019 Business Conditions Survey [6.11.19]

Results Show Continuing Neutral Outlook

Today, Lisa Ventriss, President of Vermont Business Roundtable (VBR) and Jeffrey Carr, President, Economic & Policy Resources (EPR), announced the Q2 of 2019 outlook results of their joint initiative, the VBR/EPR Business Conditions Survey and Index.

Overall Findings

The latest survey, which was conducted during April of 2019, achieved a response rate of 62 percent overall.  Survey results show that:

  • More than three-quarters of respondents shared negative outlooks specifically with ease of hiring for available positions (76%); a dramatic shift away from neutral from the previous survey (64%) and reflective of the demographic-workforce growth challenges Vermont is currently facing;

 

  • A majority of respondents expressed a neutral outlook about the state’s overall business climate (62% Neutral, 14% Negative); tempering the negative outlook of the previous survey (41% Neutral, 44% Negative).

 

  • When asked, “Are you more or less optimistic about the general business climate in your sector compared to three months ago?”…overall the responses were largely neutral or negative. The Manufacturing sector expressed the most optimism (40%), while the Education sector had the most pessimistic outlook (43%).

 

Mr. Carr of EPR stated that “Business sentiment tends to be somewhat fickle.  It also can bounce around a bit in response to the most recent tenor of policy statements and trial balloons from the U.S. Administration, key members of the U.S. Congress, and other economic and political leaders around the world.  Business sentiment for the second quarter of 2019 index in Vermont likely reflects the rebound in the U.S. economy following the end of the calendar year turmoil—U.S. fiscal policy that included a partial federal government shutdown and an intensification of trade tensions with China.  This reading also was taken just prior to the recent breakdown in U.S.-China trade negotiations and the Administration’s threat to use tariffs to attempt to compel Mexico to harden its borders.  Economists and many businesspeople understand that tariffs are harmful to consumers and to the stability of U.S. supply chains—particularly for agricultural-food products, vehicles, and electronics.  It therefore remains uncertain as to how this still evolving mix of policy and politics will impact the level of business uncertainty going into the Summer, just as the U.S. economic upturn sets its new all-time record for longevity.”

“This survey cycle came during the legislative session, which saw a number of bills that would impact businesses and their bottom lines. It is very likely that the neutral-to-negative responses by Roundtable members reflect that uncertain environment. Certainly, the open-ended comments by members highlight their ongoing concerns about the near and long-term business impacts associated not only with lack of skilled personnel, but with Vermont’s new environmental regulations, failure to fund higher education, and lack of affordable housing and childcare slots for workers,” said Roundtable President Lisa Ventriss.

The raw (unweighted) survey data are easily compared to the quarterly, national Business Roundtable CEO Survey of national and multi-national companies, which contains similar questions to the VBR/EPR Survey in terms of employment and capital spending (www.brt.org). Comparing these two surveys revealed that:

  • Compared to their national counterparts, which are expecting decreases in both capital spending and employment, a majority of Vermont companies are predicting modest growth in both measures.

When comparing VBR/EPR survey results against national GDP data (Table 1), we find that

  • Vermont’s outlook appears to remain on a “neutral” trend, with only slight fluctuation. Given the responses from this and the previous survey, they continue to demonstrate that economic conditions overall are stable but not immediately leading towards expansion in many areas of the State and sectors of Vermont economy. 

The diffusion index of the general business climate (Table 2) shows that business sentiment has returned to a more normal level after a sharp decline in the previous quarterly survey, likely related to the partial federal government shutdown.

Table 1: Comparison between the VBR and National GDP Data

Table 2: Diffusion Index of General Business Climate

Also included in the survey was the opportunity for Roundtable members to express their opinions on other topics impacting their businesses.

  • Based on the highest frequency of comments, respondents expressed concern about finding and retaining qualified employees; the affordability of Vermont, especially healthcare and taxes; the aging population; and uncertainty regarding international trade.

Methodology

  • The quarterly survey is a tool for tracking business conditions and forecasting the future of Vermont’s economy, by providing insight into business sentiments and trends. Specifically, the survey 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 asked eight retrospective and prospective questions about the CEOs’ economic outlook, demand, capital spending, and employment.

The next survey will be conducted in July 2019.

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. Learn more at www.vtroundtable.org. 

 

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 30 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. Learn more at www.epreconomics.com  

[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.”

Ventriss VPR Commentary on College The Honest Way [3.25.19]

by Lisa Ventriss, President

This winter, college-bound students applied for scholarships administered by Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, including the Nordic Educational Scholarship of the Vermont Business Roundtable. This year, one hundred and thirty nine applications were received with forty five finalists making it to our selection committee. These scholarships support students seeking a certificate or two-year technical degree. Continue reading “Ventriss VPR Commentary on College The Honest Way [3.25.19]”