A new advocacy group for “socially responsible” small businesses in Vermont was announced Monday morning. Vermont’s Main Street Alliance, headed by Lindsay DesLauriers, will be part of a national network of state and local small business coalitions.
The group will endorse initiatives for statewide single-payer health care and mandatory paid sick leave for Vermont employees. The group’s strategy is to recruit small business owners into advocacy coalitions organized around each topic.
“The Main Street Alliance will create an avenue for small business owners to speak for themselves through this coalition model,” DesLauriers said.
DesLauriers worked for Voices for Vermont’s Children in 2014 and led an unsuccessful legislative push for paid sick leave. She said the experience convinced her that a small business niche was not being met by other business organizations or issues groups.
“The business associations and chambers who opposed (paid sick leave) claimed the voice of small business,” DesLauriers said. She felt the small business mantle was “co-opted” by groups that actually served different masters.
Small business owners based their opinions on a predominance of messages crafted by business groups that opposed the legislation, DesLauriers said.
“We will be able to put this out in a way that we consider is really reflective of the policies being proposed,” she said.
Founding members are Liza Cain and Randy George, co-owners of Red Hen Bakery; Melinda Moulton, CEO of Main Street Landing; Trudy Trombley, owner of the Boutique at Stowe Mercantile; Stephanie Hainley, COO at White and Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors and former president of the Burlington Chapter of Business and Professional Women (BPW); and Wayne Nelson, partner at L.N. Consulting.
In a joint statement, the founders said they intend to “elevate” the voice of small businesses in policy discussions.
“We know that when we support our communities, we support our community businesses and we’re looking forward to making it easier for small businesses to join in these conversations in Montpelier,” they said.
The Main Street Alliance is conducting a small business survey this summer and fall to gauge support for universal health care and paid sick leave. DesLauriers said the results so far show strong support.
She said the group still has to refine its operating principles, but essential conditions of their support for single-payer health care are that the plan’s financing be equitable, progressive and sufficient.
“We want to make sure that everybody is getting the coverage they need,” DesLauriers said.
Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility is one business group that supports both paid sick leave and universal health care, DesLauriers said. But its organizing model is broad, she said, while the lobbying work of Main Street Alliance will be more targeted.
Business groups will not have to buy membership or pay dues to be represented by the Alliance, and the group will focus almost exclusively on issue advocacy rather than other business networking.
The Vermont project of Main Street Alliance is funded by grants from the national organization Family Values at Work and the Leonard and Sophie Davis Fund of San Francisco.
George, of Red Hen Bakery, said he thinks the issues of health care and paid sick leave are priorities for a majority of small business owners in Vermont. He thinks their message may be able to travel further in Vermont than most other states, where larger companies dominate the business landscape.
“I think that small businesses end up having a bigger voice in Vermont than they may in most other states,” George said.