Last week the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce took our yearly “victory lap,” as we celebrated at our annual meeting. We met at the Capitol Plaza for dinner, connected with our membership and had a fantastic presentation on workforce readiness.

Just what were we celebrating? In 2018, the Central Vermont Chamber was engaged in a variety of ways.

We are in the third year of implementation of our strategic plan. The strategic plan identified four key areas of focus for the Chamber: advocacy; fiscal integrity; technology and facilities management.

I am pleased to report that we are reaching the specific goals in almost all of the criteria, and for those that we have missed, we have been making great progress.

We identify “Advocacy” as encompassing several different aspects of our activity. We advocate for our members by presenting educational programming such as our $marts and ¢ents seminars. Our Business After Hours mixers bring businesses together in a relaxed networking setting. We advocate for our members in the public policy arena on all levels. We successfully advocated for the return of health insurance for our members, as an added benefit, complementing our dental and vision plans.

We market the region as a destination, advocating on behalf of our robust tourism industry. I am very pleased to announce that we have just published our new regional Visitors’ Guide. This has been a major undertaking for us and will result in increased visitors to our region. Call us at 802-229-5711 or send an email to info@centralvt.com if you would like a copy. We will be distributing it this week at the New York Times Travel Show.

Fiscal integrity is the primary directive for us. 2018 was a challenging year. 2019 is a year for growth for the Chamber. We have 320 members which is about 10 percent of the available market. Our goal is to reach 480 in three years. If you are in business and are not yet a member of the Central Vermont Chamber, call me, and I’ll explain all of the advantages and benefits of membership.

We have made technology a priority for us. We have been making great strides as we make better use of available technology to streamline our operations. We have enhanced our social media presence and have made — and are continuing to make — behind the screen improvements to our website.

Last year, we made improvements in Beaulieu Place, our world headquarters. We followed the recommendations from Efficiency Vermont to better insulate our home, leading to better efficiencies and greater savings. We also invested in major renovations to Beaulieu Place, resulting in completely leasing space that has been vacant for more than five years. We also named the leased portion of Beaulieu Place, the George Malek Business Suites in a very moving dedication ceremony.

Those are only some of the highlights of the year just ended.

We identified “Workforce Development: Needs and Solutions” as the theme for our annual meeting. The reason for that is obvious. The state is at its lowest unemployment in decades. Employers have openings but are having a difficult time attracting and identifying qualified employees to fill those slots.

Our panel of three presented an overview of the problem and discussed ways of addressing the challenge. Bill Shouldice, president of Vermont Teddy Bear and chair of the Vermont Futures Project set the stage by framing the issue. The research that the Vermont Futures Project has conducted clearly shows the need to replace 10,000 jobs annually by 2040 simply to maintain our current levels of employment and productivity. We have an aging workforce and negative population growth in Vermont.

The Vermont Futures Project has six recommended strategies to accomplish this. We must encourage more workers to move to Vermont. Out-migration has to be minimized. College students must remain in Vermont. We have to move high school students into available jobs. Mature workers have to be retained. Finally, and most importantly, more working families, new Americans and remote workers have to be added to the work force.

Mary Anne Sheahan, executive director of Vermont Talent Pipeline Management (VTPM), an arm of the Vermont Business Roundtable, discussed their approach to filling jobs. The VTPM is an effort that includes policy makers, educators, government agencies, regional workforce partners and industry associates all working together with employers to identify strategies for workforce solutions. By working collaboratively, educational training is being developed to match the types of jobs so that potential employees come prepared with the critical skills that employers are seeking.

As executive director of the Central Vermont Career Center, Penny Chamberlin is on the front lines with high school students. Students at the Career Center are learning the skills that lead to lifetime careers and academic excellence in the 21st century. They are on a direct pathway for success. For example, the construction program from the National Center for Construction Education and Research provides students with solid training and the completion of the first year of a nationally recognized apprenticeship program. It opens the door for an excellent, rewarding career.

Our annual meetings give us the opportunity to reflect on the successes that we have achieved and motivates us to do even better in the new year.

My thanks to all of our annual meeting sponsors: Northfield Savings Bank (Platinum); Community National Bank; Casella Waste Systems; CVMC — Woodridge Rehab & Nursing; National Life Group; People’s United Bank; VT Mutual Insurance Group (Gold) and Milne Travel (Silver).

If you are interested in how you can benefit from membership, call us at 802-229-5711 or drop an email to me at bill@centralvt.com. I’ll be happy to explain out how you can become a member of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, the leading business organization in Central Vermont.

William E. Moore is the president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

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