SBA week features super Vermont executives

Darcy Carter, TJ Donovan, Peter Welch and Ashley Adams of PG Adams, April 30 2018. SBA photo.

by Timothy McQuiston and John Boutin Vermont Business Magazine In honor of Small Business Week, the Vermont SBA office featured three of its superhero entrepreneurs. For one you'd need to fly to maybe Boston to replicate what they do here; another makes miracles out of molten rock; and a third bends steel, literally. Representative Peter Welch and Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan joined members of the Small Business Administration visiting these entrepreneurs Monday.

The group visited Gordon’s Window Décor in Williston, AO Glass in Burlington and PG Adams in South Burlington. Each of the businesses, along with their other-worldly businesses, had an executive who successfully completed the SBA Emerging Leaders program in 2016.

Emerging Leaders is an executive-level training program where 20 Vermont business owners work with a network of industry experts at Vermont Technical College to create a three-year strategic growth plan. It is sponsored by the Small Business Administration.

The SBA follows up with businesses that have completed the program to assess how they implemented changes.

After completing Emerging Leaders, Rich Arentzen of AO Glass decided to invest in an additional 8,000 square feet to accommodate more inventory and work space. Ashley Adams of PG Adams purchased advanced manufacturing equipment to increase capacity at the plant. Kelly Conklin of Gordon’s Window Décor said the company has expanded exports and increased contracts with universities and schools.

“I’m happy to hear that they took so much away from the class and are expanding. It’s important to note that although each one is headquartered in Vermont they are selling their products outside of the state, bringing that capital back and investing it here in the Vermont economy,” said VT SBA director Darcy Carter.

AO Glass

Inside AO Glass in Burlington. VBM photo.

Despite spinning liquefied silicon dioxide (sand) with their bare hands, Arentzen and artistic partner Tove Ohlander (hence AO) are the coolest couple in town.

According to their Website, Arentzen and Ohlander met at the Orrefors Glass School in Sweden in 1994. They married, had kids and began a glass blowing studio in Norway. In 2007, they moved to Vermont and founded AO. At the time, AO specialized in high-end sculptural vessels. In an effort to fight off the recession, they began to make souvenir glass snowmen to sell as gifts.

A connection with Senator Bernie Sanders brought the snowmen into the Smithsonian Museum gift store. In 2014, AO truly hit their stride and discovered the perfect niche; unfulfilled demand for glass manufacturing in the high-end lighting market.

PG Adams

PG Adams steel fabrication plant in South Burlington. VBM photo.

PG Adams perhaps is the most unusual of this superhero class. They make heavy truck bodies, which is the type of fabrication more likely to be found in an Upper Midwest factory town, not around the corner from the Burlington, Vermont, airport.

Are they nervous about a possible tariff on foreign steel that President Trump has suggested? You bet they are. They source their steel from the Netherlands. European steel mills are the only source in the world for the kind of high strength, yet bendable steel they need. They're hoping that Europe gets a pass on the tariff.

According to their Website, PG Adams is known for some of the largest metal forming equipment in the Northeast. They provide custom metal forming for the transportation, excavation, agricultural, and marine industries. In addition, you'll find their industrial, architectural, and ornamental metal fabrications in schools, businesses, and public facilities throughout Vermont and New England.

Gordon's Window Decor

Kelly Conklin explains the business of window treatments to Peter Welch Darcy Carter, TJ Donovan and her dad, Gordon Clements. VBM photos.

Gordon's window treatments are fancied halfway across the globe in Australia and New Zealand (a blogger Down Under recommended them a few years ago, showing the influence of social media on modern marketing). Upwards of 20 percent of their approximate $3 million in sales are exported outside the US. While continuing to do retail at their facility in Williston, their future success lies with commercial sales, solar shades and secure shades. Already, they've installed secure shades at schools in Williston and Essex Junction. With the flick of a button, all the shades at a school could be lowered in an emergency, or when it's simply hot and sunny.

According to their Website, Gordon Clements started Gordon’s Window Décor in 1986 by building shades in his basement. He moved into Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester in 1987 and called that home for 25 years. The business has grown steadily and now has over 26 employees supplying shades and comprehensive window treatments to businesses, schools, and homeowners all over the world.

Clements’ daughter, Kelly Conklin, has been working for the company since 2003 and is now president and ready to take the company into the next generation. When asked how being a film student at Syracuse University prepared her for manufacturing and selling window shades, without hesitation she answered: "None."

Clements said not only is Gordon's the only manufacturer of shades in Vermont, "You'd probably have to go all the way to Boston to find another one."

Each year since 1963, the president has issued a proclamation calling for the celebration of National Small Business Week. The 2018 National Small Business Week is from April 29 to May 5 with events planned in Washington DC and across the country.

SBA Vermont Winners

Sascha Mayer and Christine Dodson of Mamava are being recognized by the US Small Business Administration for employment growth, financial success, expansion and community involvement. Mamava designs and manufactures free-standing lactation suites for nursing mothers.

Mayer (right) and Dodson will be presented their award during the 2018 Vermont Small Business Awards Ceremony cohosted by Vermont Business Magazine on June 7 (To register for the event, click HERE). The statewide celebration for Mamava and all the other Vermont small business winners will be held at the Country Club of Vermont in Waterbury.

The owners of Mamava received their 2018 Vermont Small Business Person of the Year awards during a ceremony in Washington DC on Monday.

Linda McMahon, Administrator of the Small Business Administration,personally recognized and awarded all the state winners. She commended all of them for their hard work, innovative ideas and dedication to their employees and community.

For more information, visit

Vermont SBA Celebration June 7

Thursday, June 7, 2018, 4-7 pm
Country Club of Vermont
Waterbury, VT

4pm – 5:30pm– Registration and Cocktail Reception
5:30pm – 6:30pm– Award Ceremony

The ceremony is open to the public. To register for the event, click HERE.

Small Business Person of the Year
Sascha Mayer & Christine Dodson

Mamava founders named Vermont Small Business Persons of the Year

Burlington, VT

Microenterprise of the Year
Dan Roscioli
Williston, VT

Veteran-Owned Business of the Year
Shawn Trout & Kevin Jarvis
1stRepublic Brewing
Essex Junction, VT

Family-Owned Business of the Year
Calley Hastings, Steve Reid & Judith Irving
Fat Toad Farm
Brookfield, VT

Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Nicole Carey
Bird Folk Collective
Winooski, VT

Woman-Owned Business Person of the Year
Mel Baiser & Kate Stephenson
Helm Construction
Brattleboro, VT