Vermont Business Magazine This week, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual Vermont Economic Conference virtually. Over the course of two days, nearly 400 business leaders, economists, and equity professionals discussed the economic outlook for the year ahead and engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion centered discussions.
Growing and retaining Vermont’s workforce to address the labor shortage is the top priority of the Vermont Chamber this year. In November 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data citing 23,000 open jobs in Vermont. With a demographic crisis compounded by the pandemic, the viability of the state labor force is dependent upon on the ability to welcome a diverse new population to live and work in Vermont.
“The goal of this year’s conference was to inform the Vermont business community of the advantages of centering diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of their work, particularly by offering innovative solutions for hiring and management practices,” said Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop. “It’s crucial that Vermont welcomes all people into our communities, and we embrace them as our neighbors and co-workers. The resilience of the Vermont economy depends on it.“
Tinotenda Charles Rutanhira, Co-Founder of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network, spoke to the opportunity for radical change, stating, “Vermont is only 643,000 people, we do not need a 20-year vision. We can make change in five years. We are smaller than most big cities in this country. We don’t need something to take us until 2045 for us to see effect.”
Mathew Barewicz, Chief Economist for the Vermont Department of Labor, presented data to support Rutanhira’s vision of a more diverse Vermont, citing, “In 2010, five percent of Vermont’s population identified as ‘not white’… by 2020, 10% of Vermont’s population identified as ‘not white.’ That is a significant shift in our population over a short 10-year period.”
Several key policy solutions to combat the state’s dwindling labor force were discussed, such as the need for a coordinated recruitment effort to encourage migration to Vermont. However, barriers to successful relocation, such as affordability, housing, and the lack of community resources, were shared by several BIPOC business professionals.
Gary Scott, Vice President of Hospital Services at UVM Medical Center, shared his personal story of moving to Vermont for a new career but was unable to find suitable housing options. He ultimately lived in a hotel for seven months before successfully finding a home. “If you want Vermont to be a state that matters in the future, you’ve got to fix the housing issue. You won’t be able to attract people to keep them here and fulfill our economic needs if people can’t afford to stay here.”
“In order to remove barriers, support has to be very meaningful and long lasting,” said Leslie McCrorey Wells, Co-Owner of Pizzeria Verità, Trattoria Delia and Sotto Enoteca. “To be able to retain people it’s really critical for people to understand the larger economic issues here.”
Recordings of each session are available to view online.
- Gus Faucher, PNC Bank
- Phil Daniels, TD Bank
- Kuma Roberts, Arrowhead Consulting
- Al Wakefield, Inclusion Advocate
- Rhea C. Williams-Bishop, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- Jonathan R. Njus, W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- Emiliano Void, Co-Founder and CEO of nuwave Equity Corporation
- Tinotenda Charles Rutanhira, Co-Founder of VT Professionals of Color
- Leslie McCrorey Wells, Co-Owner of Pizzeria Verità, Trattoria Delia and Sotto Enoteca
- Gary Scott, VP of Hospital Services at UVM Medical Center
- Willie Docto, co-owner of Moose Meadow Lodge
- Mat Barewicz, Chief Economist, Vermont Department of Labor
- Renee Bourget-Place, Partner, KPMG LLP
About the Vermont Chamber of Commerce
The largest statewide, private, not-for-profit business organization, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce represents every sector of the state’s business community. Its mission is to create an economic climate conducive to business growth and the preservation of the Vermont quality of life.
Montpelier, VT (January 28, 2022) – Vermont Chamber of Commerce