BURLINGTON — Vermont Energy Investment Corp. welcomed the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce Legislative Networking event to its headquarters in Burlington’s South End in late October.
Chamber members and guests got the opportunity to talk with candidates for Vermont’s legislature and other statewide offices (about 30 candidates attended), and the chance for some business-to-business networking.
In addition to Vermont Energy Investment Corp., or VEIC, sponsors included AT&T, FairPoint Communications, Farrell Distributing, Green Mountain Power, Pomerleau Real Estate and Top Hat Entertainment. Sugarsnap of South Burlington catered the event.
Executive Director Scott Johnstone welcomed guests to VEIC’s offices on Lakeside Avenue.
“This is the world headquarters of VEIC, a nonprofit organization founded right here in Burlington in 1986,” he said. “It started with a handful of people, grew to a few dozen, to now more than 320 employees in three major locations.”
VEIC operates Efficiency Vermont as a statewide efficiency utility.
“We also have similar operations in Washington, D.C., and Ohio,” Johnstone said. “They are clean energy, energy efficiency utilities serving customers in those areas. So our footprint has expanded significantly.”
Johnstone said the company also maintains a robust consulting division.
“We take ideas that are born and incubated here in Vermont out to the rest of the world — because what works here tends to work elsewhere,” he said. “We like to think of it as exporting innovations out to the world in pursuit of our mission.”
That mission, Johnstone said, is to reduce the economic and environmental cost of energy.
“When we export innovations developed in Vermont, we serve our mission on a wider scale, with benefits that accrue back here as new jobs created in Vermont,” he said. VEIC currently employs 275 people in Vermont, primarily at its Burlington headquarters, but also at an office in Rutland.
With dozens of businesses in attendance at the event, Johnstone said a main goal for VEIC was to promote the availability of Efficiency Vermont.
“Efficiency Vermont is a resource that is here for all Vermont energy consumers, and businesses are a big piece of that,” Johnstone said. “We’re eager to drive home the fact that we are a free resource, we are here, and ready to partner with them. We can bring our energy-efficiency expertise to bear on whatever they are experts in. Whatever the business, we can bring value; we can lower their cost of doing business in almost every case. We can walk them through the process and help them come up with a plan that fits their business needs.”
Liz Gamache, director of Efficiency Vermont, said her organization recently launched a new initiative called Business Forward.
“It’s a campaign where we are enhancing the incentives and offering some new technologies and programs for our business customers to help save energy and save on the bottom line,” she said. “We work with business throughout Vermont, with the exception of the city of Burlington, which Burlington Electric serves.”
Gamache said the campaign launched about a month ago and runs through 2017.
Cathy Davis, executive vice president at the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, or LCRCC, talked about the importance of offering a venue for candidates for public office and area business people to connect.
“Our mission in general is to support a thriving private-sector economy, because we know if people have good jobs and companies are growing, it pays dividends in our community,” she said.
Davis also cited a recent LCRCC member survey that named a growing economy as the primary legislative priority.
“I think in January you’ll see us really concentrating on things that help our businesses succeed,” Davis said. She said that doesn’t necessarily mean direct incentives to business, but addressing a number of other concerns businesses have stated, such as workforce housing.
“Businesses also want clarity and consistency in dealing with government,” Davis said. “And there will be a number of bills, such as paid family leave, that we will be following.”
Lea Jae Girven of Sugarsnap Catering said, “We’ve won the ‘Seven Daysies’ award for Best Caterer three years running. We’re located on Community Drive in South Burlington, and our commissary kitchen offers a small retail space where folks can come for a sandwich or cup of coffee. Of course, we do full-service catering for weddings, or corporate functions, and offer drop-off catering for parties or lunches.”
Sugarsnap also operates its own farm in Burlington’s Intervale.
“We use as much of our own as we can when catering, and local-source as much of the rest as we can. Particularly during summer months, almost all our food is local,” Girven said.
Jeffrey Austin was recently promoted to director of governmental affairs at FairPoint Communications.
“One of the main focuses in my new job is broadband discussion, connectivity, community broadband and getting out there and talking to people at events like this about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it — being a conduit for that discussion.”
Austin is also a member of the current class of Leadership Champlain, LCRCC’s nine-month community leadership program.
Joe Weith, of White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors, said, “We are a commercial real estate consulting firm, and we primarily manage development projects for clients that need to build things but are not developers. They hire us to manage the development project for them.”
He cited the development of City Market in Burlington on behalf of Onion River Co-op as an example.
“That’s just an example of what we do, and we’ve been doing it for over 25 years,” Weith said. “Real estate development projects are complex. The most important thing to know is, we get it done — on time, and on budget.”
Charlotte Ancel is vice president of power supply and general counsel at Green Mountain Power.
“We are a B Corp, which means the entire organization of our company follows our values — which is our community, our customers, our environment,” Ancel said. “We’re mission-driven all the way. We’re transforming our energy future. We’re going from a big bulk grid to a local, community-based distributed grid, and dramatically upping the renewables in our power-supply portfolio. We’re providing customers with innovative energy solutions — and our rates are the second lowest in New England.”
Martha Maksym, executive director of United Way of Northwest Vermont, is also a member of the board at LCRCC.
“It’s a really good opportunity for me, from United Way, to continue to connect the dots between economic development, environmental success, and social health and well-being,” she said. “As we all know, and have known for decades, you won’t have a healthy community if you don’t have those things. So it’s great for me to sit at the table with representatives of other sectors to talk about the well-being of our community.”
Maksym said she is excited about the current United Way campaign, which she hopes will raise between $3.8 and $4 million.
“I just hope everyone gives, because it really matters,” she said.
Juli Heisler of University of Vermont talked about higher education and jobs with V. Chase, recent candidate for State Representative, Chittenden District 8-1 (Essex).
“We’re talking about the benefits and pitfalls of college,” Heisler said. “It’s an individual choice, and there are options including vocational and technical training, as well as other alternatives. I think it can be difficult at 18 or 19 years of age to make that decision, and decide to rack up thousands of dollars of debt.”
Chase said, “In Vermont, 45 percent of people have a college education. The question is, what happened to the other 55 percent.”
Chase holds a degree in economics, and currently works at GlobalFoundries. He also served six years in the U.S. Navy.
“I look at what I’m actually doing and feel my Naval training prepared me more than my college education.”
Deb Bucknam, recent candidate for Vermont Attorney General, said she proposed and favored creating a citizen/small-business protection unit, so if people are “getting the runaround — phone calls not returned, delayed permits, not getting straight answers, they can call. She said it would work as an ombudsman office.
“There are successful ombudsman programs all over the world,” she said, “and I keep hearing from people about the need for this.”
Business Vermont roving reporter Mike Reilly offers regular coverage of Chittenden County business networking events, with notes on events, hosts and sponsors, plus news and snippets from those in attendance. For events sponsored by Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, check the website at www.vermont.org.