By SARAH KAECK
This summer, we saw two studies about Vermont that appeared in contrast: One rated Vermont as one of the best places to live. The other paints Vermont as a hard place to find employees and run a business. As a business owner and employer, I know both are true, but I believe a crucial piece of the conversation is missing: Why is it hard to recruit employees and, once we recruit them, what structures are in place to keep them here and help them thrive?
I own Bee’s Wrap, a sustainable food storage company, in Bristol. Bee’s Wrap began in my kitchen six years ago and has grown into a thriving small business. Our growth has been organic, but substantial. We doubled our sales numbers each year until 2017, when they tripled. We invested in machinery, rented new production and administrative space, and our staff increased from two to nine to twenty-four.
We are currently hiring and, although we are committed to looking within Vermont (we have built a robust team that includes neighbors), we are open to the opportunity to bring new qualified employees from out-of-state. Initiatives, like THINKVermont, aimed to attract new workers to Vermont are part of the solution to improving our workforce problems. To grow my business, however, I also need to reduce absenteeism and retain the employees I do recruit.
The lack of quality, reliable child care has been a source of worry, and an inhibitor to regular attendance for my business since its inception. There is nothing more distracting, and rightly so, than trying to work when you are worried about whether your child is safe or well cared for. Like the rest of the state, parents at Bee’s Wrap struggle to find and afford childcare. As a result, they often patch together care. Too often that patchwork unravels, causing last minute stress for the employee and our team.
I believe that creating a healthy, supported work environment is crucial to my business’ success. But let me put this in terms based purely on numbers: I have six production employees. If one is absent, our ability to produce decreases by at least 15% that day. Over time, this absenteeism creates a real, financial impact on my company. Some absenteeism is expected, but in our case, it is often attributable to child care falling through. These absences would be largely avoidable if my employees had reliable child care. It is in my company’s financial best interest to ensure my employees can find and afford quality child care and it is in Vermont’s best interest to support this effort.
We cannot simply market Vermont as a great place to live. We need to implement solutions now that support our current and future residents’ ability to stay in Vermont and in the workforce. I am currently exploring what child care supports I can offer my employees and I hope to see state solutions that recognize child care as a fundamental support to our current and future workforce. Through the combined resources in Vermont, and with the participation of employers, we can invest in efforts that help all families afford care and support the network of childcare givers to provide healthy, reliable care. In turn, this will give peace of mind to our working mothers and fathers, help our businesses become more positive and productive places, and make lasting change for the state’s economy.
Sarah Kaeck is owner/founder of Bee’s Wrap, a sustainable food storage company in Bristol.