Welch Discusses Business in Vt.

Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Springfield, Vt. — On a visit here on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., listened to several small-business owners air their grievances about the challenges they face, some of which they blamed on Washington, others on Vermont.

From the high cost of living in Vermont to federal and state regulations to finding qualified workers willing to commit to obtaining skills and building a career, the owners said it is not getting any easier for them.

Rick Bibens, owner of Bibens Ace Hardware in Springfield and several other hardware stores, ticked off a list of issues that concern him, including the cost of living.

“It is astronomical,” said Bibens, adding that he has lost employees because living expenses are too high.

His second issue was regulation.

“You have to be a Phildelphia lawyer to run a business,” Bibens said.

Asked by Welch for an example, Bibens said he started a 401(k) retirement plan for employees but it is so complicated he needed to hire an attorney to complete all the paperwork.

“How much more complicated are we going to make it to run a business?” Bibens said. “You used to be able to just open the doors. Now, it is who else wants some of this dollar.”

Also concerned about regulations was Reggie Greene, president of Claremont Savings Bank, which has a branch in Springfield. Greene said a recent visit from the Federal Deposit Insurance Company gave his bank high marks for its operations but then came up with a long list of recommendations.

“It is micromanaging.” Greene said. “We are a small bank and the amount of regulations is crazy.”

Welch agreed that much of the regulations of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis should really apply to “money center” banks, not small financial institutions.

“A light touch for regulations makes more sense,” he said to Greene.

Welch began the discussion by declaring there is an “economic challenge” in parts of the country that have not benefited from the growth in the technology sector.

“A lot of rural areas are not part of that economy,” he said.

Wage stagnation, globalization and technology that is replacing jobs are creating unique challenges in rural America, Welch said.

Among the solutions he wants to work on to help strengthen local economies is an emphasis on community colleges and apprenticeships with funding from the federal government, combined with investment from employers. He said the trades are well-paying jobs and always are in need in rural areas.

“That has to be part of what we are doing,” he said. “The emphasis has to not only be on college but also on apprenticeship training.”

Also at the discussion were Colleen Hope, plant manager at Jeld-Wen, a window and door manufacturer in Springfield, and Sean Buchanan of Black River Produce.

Hope and Buchanan talked about the problems they have finding and retaining employees.

“It is very difficult to find people who want to come in and do the job and stay,” Hope said. “The biggest issue is finding temporary people to fill positions.”

For Buchanan, the problem is turnover.

“The cost is astronomical and it stresses other employees out,” Buchanan said.

Welch complimented the group for their hard work and commitment to building their businesses.

“Your success defines the community,” he said.

After the roundtable, Welch visited the former Park Street School, where the Springfield Regional Development Corporation has an option to buy the 80,000-square-foot building. SRDC Executive Director Bob Flint said the group has been talking with the Center on Rural Innovation on the possible purchase but are only in the “conceptual stage” as far as a possible use.

Welch declined to respond directly to a question about the recent announcement by Dr. Daniel Freilich, a Brownsville resident, who likely will launch a primary challenge against the congressman. Welch said it is simply too early to even talk about the next election and he is keeping his focus on working on behalf of Vermonters.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.