by Bill Stritzler The falling of leaves and shortening of days always mark a busy time for my industry – the ski resort industry. We are once again busily preparing for the ski season ahead. A critical part of that preparation is the hiring of seasonal workers. We are rapidly approaching the time of year when our workforce swells from two to three hundred shoulder season employees to 1,300 winter employees. Over many years, members of this workforce have been students and graduates of the Vermont State College System (VSCS) and Northern Vermont University (NVU) in particular. In fact, with NVU we have the opportunity to find the well-trained employees needed to operate our Resort.
NVU provides a critical pipeline of educated, well-trained employees for the Vermont ski industry. As a large employer, I can attest to the fact that it is incredibly difficult to find well-trained, educated employees. It is one of the most challenging aspects of business ownership in Vermont. Thankfully, NVU makes this much less of a challenge. Smugglers’ Notch is thankful for NVU graduates. Vermont’s entire business community relies on the graduates of our Vermont State College System.
NVU’s mountain resort management degrees give students the skills they need to work in all aspects of resort management, from on-the-mountain to back-of-the-house positions. They gain the knowledge and skills they need to work at resorts by learning resort software technologies, environmental science, resort law, risk management, and more. Those graduating with this degree come to Smugglers’ Notch well prepared to help us operate our resort.
It is difficult to calculate the impact of NVU on our state. In addition to providing a trained workforce for Smugglers’ Notch and other Vermont employers, the university itself employs 700 Vermonters, brings 18,000 people to our region every year, and attracts out of state students who choose to make Vermont their home after they graduate. And that’s just on the economic side. Academically, NVU provides vital access for Vermonters pursuing higher education. 70% of NVU’s students are Vermonters, and more than half are the first in their family to attend college. This is simply invaluable to our state.
Knowing how critical NVU and the entire VSCS are to Vermont’s workforce and economy I was pleased to hear that the legislature and the governor provided the VSCS with the bridge funding needed to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Perpetually low state funding, demographic challenges, and the challenges brought on by COVID-19 have created a perfect financial storm for the VSCS. The System was in dire need of bridge funding to weather this crisis and I am grateful to our elected officials for recognizing this need and providing the necessary support.
As we move forward, I hope that our elected officials will also recognize that in order for the VSCS and NVU to be sustainable, the state will need to commit a higher level of annual funding to Vermont’s higher education system. To date, Vermont commits fewer public dollars to our state college system (per full-time student) and to helping our students go on to higher education than any other state in the nation. Vermont provides only 17% of the budget for the VSCS, while our neighboring New England states provide an average of 30% of the budgets for their public colleges and universities. Vermont’s economy relies on an educated workforce and the VSCS and NVU are critical in that equation.
Bill Stritzler is the Owner and Managing Director of Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Cambridge, Vermont.