A New Normal: The 2022 legislative session in review

by Betsy Bishop, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and Megan Sullivan, Vice President of Government Affairs Each year, the end of the legislative session coincides with warmer weather, signaling peak tourism season just around the corner. For many Vermont businesses, however, this will be the third summer in a row that they are overwhelmed with uncertainty instead of anticipation. While elected officials resumed in-person operations at the State House, the Vermont business community is still working to determine their “new normal.”

The foundation of the Vermont Chamber advocacy this session was the stark reality that Vermont has an estimated 26,000 job openings and an unemployment rate of 2.7%. With 25,500 fewer people participating in the workforce than pre-pandemic, employers are going to unprecedented lengths to retain employees and recruit new workers.

While businesses continued to battle the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, including a constrained labor force, increased payroll expenses, reduced hours, 8.3% inflation, and endless supply chain problems, progress was made on many policy fronts due to the support from legislators who listened to our members and our dedicated five-person Vermont Chamber advocacy team.

The Vermont Chamber succeeded on most of our 2022 legislative session agenda items, including retaining Vermont workers, helping businesses emerge from the pandemic, increasing workforce housing supply, and recruiting new workers to Vermont:

Workforce Recruitment:

  • Over $3.5 million was secured for workforce recruitment initiatives , including $3 million for relocation incentives, and $500,000 to the State Refugee Office for grants to support increased in-migration and retention of New Americans.

Workforce Retention:

  • $1.5 million was allocated for a two-year pilot program for a regional workforce expansion system, $250,000 for a Special Oversight Committee on Workforce Expansion and Development and $2.5 million in forgivable loans for college graduates who commit to work in Vermont for two years after graduation.
  • Included in the final omnibus housing bill was $15 million for the Missing Middle Homeownership Development program to increase the supply of housing for middle-income workers. There are also funds for an expansion of the priority housing project program and funding to increase the supply of rental units through grants to property owners.

Workforce Training:

  • $15 million was secured for a Career and Technical Education Construction and Rehabilitation Learning Program and Revolving Loan Fund through Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to rehab decrepit buildings and creative housing units.
  • Additional funding includes $3 million secured for the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, $1.5 million to the Department of Labor for a Vermont Work-Based Learning and Training Program, $387,000 to Vermont Technical College for a skilled meat cutter training/apprenticeship facility, $250,000 for the Vermont Professionals of Color Network to provide business coaching and training.
  • The Department of Corrections was granted $420,000 to address vocational enhancement needs and $300,000 to establish a community reentry pilot program.

Business Recovery:

  • $38 million was also secured for business recovery programs, including $19 million for Vermont Economic Development Authority forgivable loans, $40 million for Community Recovery and Revitalization Grant Program, and $9 million for Creative Economy Grants.
  • Several provisions in a liquor law modernization bill will be beneficial for the hospitality industry, including moving ready-to-drink cocktails (RTDs) into the wholesale/retail space, permitting first-class licensees to sell RTDs, staggered vs. annual license renewals, and clarification for licensees to participate in the rare and unusual product raffles.
  • $17.7 million of continued savings were secured for health care premiums for small businesses using the Vermont Health Connect.
  • The manufacturing tax exemption expansion would exempt machinery and equipment used in integrated production operations and all ancillary processes between raw materials and finished goods, as well as some secondary packaging processes.

While there were many wins for the business community this session, the Legislature failed to deliver on key workforce recruitment efforts by not passing an allocation for relocation marketing or a full tax exemption on military retirement income. Even so, House and Senate leaders will head into the campaign season with a strong record of supporting the Vermont Chamber agenda and the Vermont business community. From our annual Vermont Economic Conference to our State to Main policy podcast series, to supporting the Vermont Declaration of Inclusion initiative, the Vermont Chamber once again set the tone for making Vermont a better, more vibrant place to live, work, and play.

Betsy Bishop, of East Montpelier, is the President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is focused on creating an economic climate conducive to business growth while enhancing Vermont’s quality of life.