McCabe: I did everything to survive, Legislature came up with $0

by Kate Whelley McCabe, CEO, Vermont Evaporator Company Monday, June 1st started off great. My family was healthy. After three wretched months, my business was still standing. And good news was on the way: thanks to our public health experts, our healthcare workers and the support of the general public, Vermont was managing the pandemic well. We were opening up, slowly and responsibly. And, I hadn't read the details yet, but the governor's $250 million COVID Aid package had been announced.

He'd done such a good job managing the pandemic response itself, it had to contain good news for Vermont Evaporator Company, right? I mean, I had long since given up on the federal government, sure. But Vermont was on top of this!

Wrong. I read the details. Of the $250 million, Vermont Evaporator Company was entitled to exactly $0. We don't have 5 or more employees, so we were too small for a disaster loan. And our revenue numbers didn't look bad enough to be entitled to any grants. Even if our revenues were low enough, the fact that we had applied for, and received, enough PPP funding to keep our remaining employee on payroll for eight weeks meant we'd still end up with $0 in the end.

Vermont Evaporator Company, with all its unmet need, had been left out. So I did all the things you do, and all the things I had done in March when the federal package came out: I took all the surveys, told all my legislators, my SBA and CVEDC business advisors, my loan officers and bankers, non-profit movers and shakers at CCVT, VBSR, Vermont Main Street Alliance, Montpelier Alive, my long-suffering husband. Facebook. Anyone who would listen.

What did we get as a result? Less than nothing.

Inexplicably, current draft legislation responds to cries like mine by reducing the available amount for emergency assistance from $250 to $70 million and making it less accessible for companies like ours that duked it out with the universe to stay open in a limited way during the grim days of March, April and May.

I managed to operate my small manufacturing and retail business as a sole-proprietor for three months during a global pandemic and emerged having kept every last pre-pandemic promise I made to my customers, my employees, my suppliers and my creditors.

The state's lack of support for my business fails to honor my grit, my entrepreneurship, and my commitment to staying open in strictest adherence to the governor's orders for the good of myself, my family, and my community.

That lack of support fails to honor the effort behind our survival: of pivoting a business model to online-only sales, repackaging unsold inventory to appeal to off-season buyers, negotiating with banks and creditors for the reduction of overhead expenses, applying for all available federal, private and municipal grants, aggressively pursuing refunds for expenses made obsolete by COVID (2020 in-person marketing events), cashing in business credit card points, and crowdsourcing (You donate, we make and distribute a durable, washable cotton mask to someone in need in our community!).

In March, when I wrote to my federal delegation to explain why the CARES Act failed to adequately help small businesses, I told them I felt as though I was holding a bake sale to pay for an ocean liner. I had such high hopes that Vermont, ever the more functional democracy, would get it right.

But, in the end, there is nothing for us in this legislation but another disappointment.

Vermont should want people like me running innovative, scalable, growth-oriented manufacturing companies like ours. And the Vermont Evaporator Company may very-well end up surviving. But if it doesn't, it won't be because we left any stone unturned. It'll be because our government wasn't under any of the stones to begin with.

If you need me, I'll be baking.

Kate Whelley McCabe

CEO, Vermont Evaporator Company

157 Pioneer Center, Suite 1
Montpelier, VT 05602