A look at what Vermont’s conservative college students are thinking, saying and doing today
By Lindsay Smith, senior at Champlain College
When I was sixteen years old I was called into my grandmother’s office to help her prepare financial statements for her small business. With only four employees, her residential care home is the epitome of a small, Vermont business. After my grandfather retired from a lifetime career of construction, he and my grandmother moved back to his hometown to open a residential care facility. Their business has been successful simply because of the hard work and dedication necessary to maintain the necessary 24-hour a day staff.
Maintaining the business has not always been easy, and this trend is noticeable throughout Vermont. There are many roadblocks small business owners face when growing their businesses. When they purchased a bed and breakfast 25 years ago, my grandparents had big plans to remodel the home and expand to accommodate 12 more residents in individual living spaces. However, it took almost ten years to save up the funds and acquire the permits to expand. As a project manager for homes and commercial properties built all through New England, my grandfather was amazed at the permitting process in his own hometown. The ten years and hefty funds they spent on this project could have been used to advertise their business or hire more employees. But they sacrificed staff and split the long hours to account for the difference.
Working with Representative Don Turner, I was able to participate in the design and analyzing of his business tour this fall. Don met with local business owners throughout the state in roundtable discussions of the current need for legislative improvements. Prior to the tour, I asked my grandparents for a collection of topics they found to impact their business. The results from the tour were almost identical to that collection. This obvious similarity was the most valuable thing taken from the tour. The recognition that small business owners are struggling with the same issues creates the opportunity to improve. Legislators like Don who take the time to meet with these business owners and propose bills in the session are improving the business climate in the state. Hopefully these bills will be well-received and business owners will see a positive effect.
Small business owners are the creators of jobs. If their needs are not being met, they cannot afford to hire more workers. Like my grandparents, many are being forced to sacrifice needed staff and work long hours. Although many owners are willing to put this effort into their business, it takes time away from other aspects needed to successfully grow the business. When the permitting process was completed and the addition was finished, my grandparents were able to generate more revenue and hire additional workers. With more time, he joined the Select Board in Randolph and became involved in local government. For many business owners, being involved in politics is out of the question simply for the time commitment associated. Unfortunately, these are the people that would be most valuable to the state legislature. Who better to represent the needs of Vermont than the small business owners that provide income to their workers?
Many of the decisions in Montpelier affect small businesses. Recently, the proposed healthcare bill presents a daunting reality. Even though my grandparents were able to expand their business, the need for additional help has created large employee healthcare costs. Business owners know exactly what they can afford to offer their employees. The new healthcare bill inspires fear that they cannot afford this cost. On the business tour, many owners asked the simple question of cost. Because the Shumlin administration does not answer this question, there is widespread uncertainty about the future of employee healthcare. If these costs turn out to be higher than current rates, many small businesses will not survive. After working long hours for 25 years and nearing 70 years old, my grandparents would not continue their business if they had to drop down to three employees.
As a graduating business student, I recognize the need to be involved in politics in order to maintain a successful business. Too many business owners are forced to sacrifice their opportunity to improve the business climate in Vermont because of time constraints associated with their business. While they are tied up in day-to-day operations, legislative changes in Montpelier are driving their costs up. If these costs continue to rise, we will continue to see more empty shop windows and closed family businesses.