Letter to the editor: State needs strategy for helping small businesses
Last year a friend asked me why I got engaged in policy development and advocacy. My answer was quick and simple; “I’m tired of being a stump speech.”
We know that small businesses are an important piece of the economy. Roughly 96 percent of all Vermont businesses have fewer than 50 workers. In fact, 60 percent of all wages paid in Vermont are paid by businesses that employ less than 100 people. On the campaign trail, small business owners are consistently told that our businesses are the “backbone of our economy” and that, without us, the Vermont we know would not exist. Once the elections are over, we watch in frustration as state investments, tax credits, and policies touted as business friendly are geared towards the state’s largest employers.
This legislative session, Gov. Phil Scott and his administration have unveiled a series of plans claiming to help recruit and retain young people, support small businesses, and protect working individuals and families. Some of these proposals intend to grow the economy by continuing to invest money in programs that benefit big businesses. We know Vermont must identify ways to better compete with other states, but we don’t have the same financial resources that other states do.
I believe that to accomplish a thriving business sector and economy, Vermont needs to invest resources more creatively and strategically by creating long-term policy solutions that simultaneously reduce burdens on individuals and families, invest in small businesses, strengthen the nature of employment, promote job opportunities, and ultimately make Vermont an attractive place to live and raise a family. I believe one policy in particular that they’ve continued to dismiss has the potential to help bolster small businesses and the state’s economy. This proposal is paid family and medical leave insurance.
As the bill is currently drafted, this program would provide essential wage replacement to employees during leave to bond with a new child or to care for a close family member who is sick. For minimum wage workers, this program costs around 80 cents a week. Not only does this directly benefit workers, but this proposal also helps level the playing field for small businesses that generally can’t afford to offer a similar benefit.
We are a small business state and hopefully always will be, but as a small business state, we will always face challenges around the ability to offer all the essential benefits — like health insurance, paid family leave, retirement — to our employees. Yet small businesses still must compete with larger companies that can afford to offer greater benefits and also disproportionately receive greater financial incentives and investments from the state. This uneven playing field not only directly impacts Vermont workers and the businesses that employ them, but it impacts the entire state economy.
What attracts people to Vermont is the same thing that keeps many of us here — our quality of life, the shared sense of community, our commitment to the environment and the way we care for our friends, neighbors and co-workers. We celebrate and carry these values in a way that is unique to our small cities and rural communities. Many Vermonters share similar goals for our future, even as we have different ideas about how we will achieve those goals.
The governor and the legislature have an opportunity to come together to move forward the widely popular paid family and medical leave proposal — and others — that would not only benefit working Vermonters but small businesses and our economy. Together we can move past the campaign speeches and develop policies that create real, lasting change.
3 Squares Café owner
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