Business owners reflect on Vermont's 'business friendliness'

Local owners not surprised by poor survey results

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BENNINGTON — A survey of more than 5,000 business owners across the country suggests that running a small business in Vermont is not as easy as in many other states.

Thumbtack, a San Francisco-based online service that pairs customers with local professionals, ranked the Green Mountain State 34th out of 49 states on its perceived "small business friendliness," the company announced this week. During May and June of this year, more than four dozen Vermont business owners and operators using Thumbtack to connect with potential customers participated in the survey, which asked questions about the state's tax code and online presence, among other topics.

Bennington-area business owners not among those polled by Thumbtack seemed unsurprised by Vermont's mediocre score.

Jonah Spivak, a principal of Spectrum Design, pointed to the pending disallowance of association health plans by state regulators as a recent, problematic development. Starting next year, Vermont businesses won't be allowed to team up in order to buy cheaper health insurance, the state Department of Financial Regulation announced in June, citing federal guidance and law.

On a local level, Spivak has found the town of Bennington to be supportive of business. This past spring, Spivak said, he oversaw a local renovation project, and the town government helped him navigate the permitting process in an expedient manner. "I feel pretty positive about the business friendliness" of Bennington, he said.

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Matt Willey, owner of Ramunto's Pizza, said he fears the passage of state bills that would raise the minimum wage and enact a paid family leave program, though neither was adopted by lawmakers during the recent legislative session. It might not be feasible to pass costs associated with the potential initiatives along to customers, Willey suggested. "Who's gonna pay more than $22 for a pizza?" he asked rhetorically.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would increase pay for up to 27 million workers by 2025 but might also result in the loss of 1.3 million jobs, according to a study released last month.

The Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce recently completed its own survey of 110 southwestern Vermont business owners, a plurality of whom indicated that "workforce issues" — a broad category that included matters of hiring, staffing, housing and daycare—were having the most direct impact on the success of their operations.

A majority of the respondents said that their businesses were performing better financially today than three years ago, and a whopping 84 percent agreed that "in general Southern Vermont/Bennington County is a good place to have a business/organization," according to an excerpt of the not-yet-released survey shared by Matt Harrington, the Chamber's executive director.

Gov. Phil Scott's communications director didn't reply to an email Thursday seeking comment on the Thumbtack survey.

Further details of the poll can be found at https://www.thumbtack.com/vt.


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