Stephanie Hainley: New retirement savings program suits Vermont’s small business economy

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Stephanie Hainley, chief operating officer of White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors and a board member of Main Street Alliance.

Over 50 million working Americans are headed toward poverty in retirement. The lack of retirement savings is staggering, but fortunately, there is one simple way to help change that: give more people access to workplace savings plans. Some states, including Vermont under the guiding hand of Treasurer Beth Pearce, the governor’s support and bipartisan efforts, have taken it upon themselves to help more working families save by creating a state-based public retirement option, which makes it incredibly simple for Vermont’s small employers to offer their employees access to a vetted product. Vermont’s small business economy depends on innovative solutions like this, and I am pleased to see the Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan on the horizon.

As COO of a small business, I know firsthand how costly it can be to set up access to retirement savings product for a small number of employees. While we did it at White + Burke, it is complex and labor-intensive. For many of Vermont’s small employers, who often operate on modest bottom lines, providing a retirement plan to employees is just not feasible.

Passed through the Legislature as part of the economic development bill (S.135), the new Green Mountain Secure Retirement program, sets up a public opt-in multiple employer plan. Only small businesses that wish to enter into the plan will do so. This program would also be the first plan of its kind in the nation to allow for an employer to make contributions, in addition to employees.

For many of Vermont’s small employers, who often operate on modest bottom lines, providing a retirement plan to employees is just not feasible.


State-based plans, like Green Mountain Secure Retirement, offer small businesses a solution that gives them greater opportunity to recruit and train good employees and better compete with larger companies that are able to offer comprehensive benefits packages. Green Mountain Secure Retirement also gives Vermont’s small business owners a more secure way to save for themselves.

Many small business owners see their business as an investment – one they can count on when they are ready to retire. They typically have two options: sell the business or hire committed managers to run it. All too often, the sale price of the business is not even close to their total investment and with others running the business, sometimes profit is only enough to cover basic expenses. Small business owners are often stuck working well beyond retirement age – or they retire into poverty.

The Green Mountain Secure Retirement plan could help the 45 percent of Vermonters, including small business owners, who do not have access to an employer-sponsored plan save for retirement. Helping more Vermonters achieve better financial footing later in life will make our state economy healthier.

Anyone who works hard and plays by the rules should not have to choose between retiring into poverty or working until they die. I’m disappointed to see lawmakers at the federal level continue to make it more complicated for people to save, but I am encouraged and proud to live in a state that is working toward greater economic security for all.

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  • Edward Letourneau

    First lets recognize that if you choose to live in vermont, you have also chosen to have poverty in retirement. This plan will help some, but it doesn’t solve the problem of no industry to pay decent wages in the first place.