BURLINGTON — Brilliant summer sun and warm temperatures welcomed guests to the annual Burlington Business Association (BBA) Summer Social in late August. The St. John’s Club in the Lakeside neighborhood in Burlington’s South End hosted this year’s edition. Guests enjoyed original surf music performed by the band, The High Breaks.
Sarah O Donnell, member services and events manager at BBA, said it’s been a busy summer for the association.
“We’ve been actively advocating for the Burlington Town Center redevelopment project. It brings a lot of what is really important for the association to downtown Burlington — from office space, to housing, re-opening a number of streets, as well as bringing new retail. It checks a lot of boxes of what we think is important for the economic vitality of Burlington.”
BBA Executive Director Kelly Devine said the organization was poised to announce a “Together for Progress” initiative. She said other anchor members of the initiative include AARP Vermont, Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce (LCRCC) and Local Motion.
“It’ a collaboration to move a number of projects forward, including the Town Center Project, Plan BTV, the walk/bike master plan and downtown parking,” Devine said.
This fall, O Donnell said, BBA will coordinate a number of member meetings focused on the project, as well as plan for the BBA Business Summit in January and Annual Dinner in April. O Donnell noted that BBA counts a number of businesses based in neighboring towns as members.
“It’s essentially if you believe Burlington needs to remain a strong hub for business, that’s where membership support becomes important for us,” O Donnell said. “All our work is focused on our mission — to steward and promote Burlington’s economic vitality. As Vermont’s largest city, Burlington is an economic driver in Vermont. Any business that believes that is a potential member.”
O Donnell said the summer social (and winter version) are fun for BBA.
“We’re so focused on advocacy work, and most of our events are educational,” she said. “The socials are a chance to kick back and relax. To network, but in a more casual way. We want to make it as fun as possible, and throw a good party.”
Margi Brownfield Swett of Vermont Trophy & Engraving in Colchester was making her first visit to St. John’s Club.
“I actually made them a couple of signs recently, which is how I first became aware of them,” she said. “But this place is awesome. An amazing location — and they have bocce!”
The St. John’s Club’s membership is at an all-time high, according to food and bar manager Ken Ploof.
“We have over 2,200 members, ranging from 21 to 90 years of age,” he said. “That’s unusual for a private club. Most are losing members.”
Joe Speidel is local government and community relations director at The University of Vermont (UVM).
“At UVM, we do a lot of things that help business statewide. We offer education and training for people going into the workforce, and connect current students with internships. We’re bringing young people into the state every year as both undergraduate and graduate students. Not all of them stay after graduation, but many do.”
Speidel said business partnerships are a high priority for UVM. The university’s Career Services Office reaches out to businesses throughout Vermont to expand and enhance experiential education opportunities for students in ways that also best serve businesses.
“We also have strong partnerships with places like The Generator — the local makerspace — as well as start-ups and entrepreneurial activity.”
Philip Smith is Bank of America’s first Vermont-based employee. A senior vice president and senior relationship manager, Smith said, “We just opened in Vermont in January. My office is on Lake Street in Burlington — right above The Skinny Pancake.”
A longtime Vermont resident himself, Smith said Bank of America is a great fit for companies that need services a larger bank can offer.
“I work with companies with annual revenues of $5 million to $100 million,” he said. “We’re not the bank for everybody, but for larger companies, and those with international needs, we offer a lot of resources.”
Joyce Cameron joined Lake Champlain Maritime Museum as director of development and community relations about two months ago.
“We’re working on creating a Maritime Pathway for students to learn STEAM education, integrating science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics,” she said.
Through the program, students engage on real-world issues regarding water quality, phosphate management, fisheries, human health, climate change and more.
“We’re developing working partnerships, and looking to purchase a vessel to help with underwater ecology study,” Cameron said. “Some of that will also be available to adults. We’re a unique organization in Vermont — no one else really does what we do.”
Rita Markley, executive director of COTS (Committee on Temporary Shelter), said, “We’re focused on a Back-to-School Drive because there are a lot of kids — and the number’s been growing quickly — who are homeless, or right on the edge. This week, KeyBank kicked off the effort, with Staples, Kinney Drugs and Hotel Vermont participating. It provides backpacks with notebooks, pencils and other supplies so that when kids walk into school that first day, they don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed.”
The effort runs through late September, and Markley said individuals or businesses could donate supplies.
“We have a list of needs online at www.cotsonline.org,” she said. “The program serves kids who are with COTS, King Street Center, Boys and Girls Club, and Sarah Holbrook Center. KeyBank coordinates from the business side, and COTS from the nonprofit side — but we need everybody.”
Doreen Kraft, executive director of Burlington City Arts (BCA), said, “We’re in the fourth year of a program with Shelburne Farms called, ‘Of Land and Local.’ It’s a discourse about the relationship between how artists interpret landscape and use, and communicate that to the public. Whether it’s a farmer, landowner, boater, homeowner — it’s about how we relate, interpret and shape our experience with the land.”
Participating artists include landscape architects, fine artists, sculptors, boaters and sailors, Kraft said.
“People working in unique ways to unveil the relationships, and reveal issues, facing this watershed, as well as the beauty of this landscape we share.”
Kraft added, “It’s also the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Irene, and we’re looking back and remembering and understanding what it took for a community to come together to restore and rebuild. So we’ll be focusing on water this year and next. We open at Shelburne Farms on September 29, and the next week at BCA. It’s a great show — it will knock your socks off.”
Ruthann Hackett of United Way of Northwest Vermont said her organization is gearing up for its 2016 Community Campaign, which launches in September.
“The merging of United Way of Chittenden County and United Way of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties has been very positive,” Hackett said. “We now have offices in South Burlington and St. Albans.”
Hackett said area companies that do not currently sponsor a workplace campaign at United Way but would like to, can contact either office for information.
Bill Orleans of PP&D Brochure Distribution said he is doing some work with the LCRCC.
“I’m redoing the map display in their office,” he said. “It was installed 25 years ago, so we’re giving it an update.” He said he’s also distributing a list called, My Favorite Restaurants. “It’s one of the most low-budget things I’ve ever done, but people seem to like it because it feels so authentic,” he said.
Champlain College is increasingly busy during the summer with conferences and special events, according to Peter Straube, strategic events producer.
“In just the past three months, we had 39 overnight groups and 23 day groups,” he said. “Some are our own programs: high school students for our Pre-College Institute, and specific programs for digital forensics, art and design portfolio courses, a gaming academy, young writers workshops. We have a lot going on in the summer, and a lot of the dorms are full.”
Straube said Champlain is an increasingly popular venue for weddings.
“We’re already gearing up for next summer.”
Eileen Townsend, a realtor at Coldwell Banker Hickok and Boardman, said she recently returned from California after a cross-country trip.
“I was on the red-eye, and at 9 a.m. the pilot announced we were approaching into Burlington,” she said. “I opened my eyes, looked out and said, ‘Oh my God. This is one of the most stunningly beautiful sights.’”
Townsend is equally excited about the Vermont real estate scene.
“We just keep going,” she said. “It’s been a great year, without any dips.”
Jonathan Eddy, of Waterfront Diving Center, said, “We’ve been on the Burlington waterfront for 28 years. We teach scuba, run charters, sell diving and swimming equipment, and run trips to the Caribbean in the winter months. Here in the Champlain Valley, this has been a great year for what we do. The water is warm, and it’s also very clear due to the lack of rain. So, aesthetically for diving, it’s a lot more enjoyable because you can see a lot better.”
Eddy said the Burlington area includes a surprising number of divers.
“People ask me all the time how a year-round diving shop can stay in business,” he said. “It’s the young and vibrant population base.”
Eddy said each person who learns scuba remembers the first breath they took underwater.
“I do,” he said. “It’s something you never forget.”
Business Vermont roving reporter Mike Reilly offers regular coverage of Chittenden County business networking events, with notes on events, hosts and sponsors, along with news and snippets from those in attendance. For events sponsored by Burlington Business Association, check the website at www.bbavt.org.