As part of our founding work, the Vermont Main Street Alliance Outreach Team has been traveling across the state this summer speaking to hundreds of small business owners about a variety of statewide policies. The small business owners we’ve met have helped us to understand their concerns, they’ve shared their ideas, and they've shown tremendous support for a number of issues that we know will be addressed in the upcoming legislative session – including overwhelming support for the implementation of a universal, publicly-financed healthcare system in Vermont.
The owners we spoke to have shared that a universal healthcare system would remove a cost-burden from employers that many of them simply cannot afford. Even those who are providing insurance still struggle with the knowledge that, under the current system, many of their employees often can’t afford the co-pays and high premiums.
Additionally, many of the small business owners we’ve met have shared that the lack of affordable, high-quality childcare in Vermont has made it difficult to retain employees. They are keenly aware of how hard it is for Vermonters - owners and employees alike – to manage the demands of work with small children to care for. In some areas of our state, it is just plain hard to find reliable, high-quality childcare; where it is available, it’s hard to afford. We are learning that this is much more than an issue impacting low-income working families: the challenges posed by accessing childcare and the need to improve quality impact all of our families – owners and employees alike. Many of the businesses have even signed a statement of support for the efforts of Let’s Grow Kids, a public education campaign focused on the importance of early childhood.
But one of the most interesting and validating themes that has come up unsolicited again and again is that our main street business owners aren’t feeling represented by the larger business chambers – often both at the regional and state level. There is a feeling shared by many that the traditional chambers prioritize the interests of larger businesses, not always understanding the implications of how truly tied to the community locally owned small businesses are. The Vermont Main Street Alliance outreach team has been working hard to make these connections with real Vermont small business owners to help ensure that the voices and interests of small businesses are heard and represented.