Vermont’s Businesses Call for the Passage of Flood Recovery Assistance Program

Burlington, Vt. (February 23, 2024) – Leadership from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR), Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA), Montpelier Alive, and more gathered in the Cedar Creek Room at the State House in Montpelier, Friday, February 23, urging legislators to BACK THE FRAP by supporting the Flood Recovery Assistance Program (FRAP) provisions in the Flood Omnibus Bill that is being proposed in the wake of the catastrophic flooding of 2023.

Leaders also unveiled a letter signed by over 200 Vermont businesses, from downtown sole-proprietorships to the state’s largest employers, asking elected officials to continue to invest dollars into flood recovery to ensure a climate-resilient economy and prosperous Vermont communities in the years ahead. The BACK THE FRAP letter is in the process of being shared with Governor Scott, legislators in both houses, the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs and the House Committee on Appropriation.

Speakers included:

  • Senator Alison Clarkson, District Windsor
  • Representative Conor Casey, District Washington-4
    • Reading a statement by Representative Kate McCann, District Washington-4
  • Representative Jonathan Williams, District Washington-3
  • Sarah DeFelice, Founder, Baily Road (Montpelier)
  • Melissa Whittaker, Owner, Positive Pie (Montpelier, Plainfield, Hardwick)
  • Yva Rose, Co-Owner, Lamoille Valley Bike Tours (Johnson)
  • Tyler Wren, Owner, Farm to Fork Fitness Adventures (South Hero), Uncommon Accommodations (Johnson, Cambridge)
  • Katie Trautz, Executive Director, Montpelier Alive
  • Kristin Warner, Public Policy Manager, VBSR

Represented in the letter are ski resorts, colleges, car dealerships, retail shops, restaurants, breweries, non-profits, construction companies, consulting firms, farms, wellness practitioners, tattoo artists and more – all unified in asking for Vermont’s lawmakers to:

  • Prioritize passing the Flood Recovery Assistance Program (FRAP) in the flood omnibus bill.
    • This funding will provide desperately needed retroactive recovery support for small businesses, addressing costs that were not previously eligible under the BE-GAP program.
    • A request for FY2025 budget to include $40 million in one-time funds to be invested in the Financial Recovery Assistance Program (FRAP) passed this year.
  • Integrate structural changes to better support our communities.
  • Help businesses innovate and invest to better withstand future impacts.

The BACK THE FRAP letter for legislators is still open for business signatories here.

Following are selections from the podium statements:

Senator Alison Clarkson (Windsor District)
“BEGAP was an incredibly important financial boost in the arm to my businesses and to all our businesses in Vermont. That $20 million was just essential. We are never going to be able to make businesses completely whole, but we certainly can provide them with much needed support.

Vermont offers very little assistance and support for our disaster-impacted businesses, and we cannot continue to rely so heavily on philanthropy to fill the gap and to get businesses back on their feet. I have to applaud philanthropy for partnering with all of us to help bring so many of our businesses back online – and many of our flood impacted businesses have lost almost 30% of their annual revenue due to the summer’s flooding and they continue to need our help in so many different ways.

So, in this building we are rowing in the same direction. This building is rowing for disaster relief and disaster recovery and on so many fronts – we are saying ‘yes’ to technical assistance, ‘yes’ to flood resiliency, ‘yes’ to housing in safe places, and ‘yes’ to mitigation. But ‘yes’, also to continued support and financial investments in our critical businesses which we rely so heavily upon.”

Representative Kate McCann, District Washington-4 (as read by Representative Conor Casey, District Washington-4)
“On July 10, 2023, areas of Vermont experienced the unthinkable. In the days, weeks and months following the flood, the capital city in which I live and serve looked like a war zone. You couldn’t be downtown without feeling loss, heartache and despair despite the outpouring of volunteerism that our brave little state is known for.

While for the most part our city looks like business as usual, we know that in Washington County alone, a total of $300 million dollars of economic injury was calculated. While so many of our small businesses have reopened their doors, they are struggling with the loss of revenues along with the costs associated with reopening.

This State has an obligation to support the economic recovery of our small businesses. The House and Senate need to pass H 723 and put Vermont small businesses on course to rise from the dust and debris and thrive once again.”

Katie Trautz, Executive Director, Montpelier Alive
“On July 10-11, 2023, Vermont cities and towns were devastated by historic flooding. The first round of estimates concluded that over 800 businesses saw damages that put a stop to business as usual. Vermont’s small businesses shouldered devastating and unpredicted physical and economic injury losses.

The harm incurred by these businesses includes damages to commercial infrastructure, loss of inventory and crops, damaged equipment, loss of critical documentation and technology, and loss of sales and services, all while loan payments, monthly bills, and other expenses continued to accrue despite zero revenue being generated. Industries across Vermont report workplace shortages, which were only exasperated by the flooding. Displaced workers were left with difficult decisions when facing the need to find employment elsewhere. Turnover stressed the company, while lack of work stressed the workforce.

The collision of climate change into operations is too great a burden for businesses to bear on their own. Our state government has a fundamental role in mitigating climate-related hazards, strengthening our collective resilience, and supporting our local economy to recoup losses and recover from the effects of a disaster. Vermont has a role in further supporting the economic recovery of our small businesses.”

Kristin Warner, Public Policy Manager, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR)
“If Vermonter’s want to live and work in vibrant communities then the state must find viable ways to intervene and support those communities when they experience a disaster, residents, and Main Street businesses alike. Insurance and emergency grants did not cover the costs of rebuilding, which meant businesses had to borrow money; while they were closed down for their entire busy season- which they count on to sustain us throughout the rest of the year- so they had to borrow even more money just to sustain until the spring.

Before the floods their debt capacity was already at its limit, so it remains to be seen how the impacted businesses are going to afford all this new debt. They are left in the situation where one stretch of bad weather threatens their survival.

In just fourteen days, over 200 hundred businesses from across the state have joined us in this call to action. The sense of urgency is palpable, and the comments have been heartbreaking. Our small businesses are the backbone of our communities, and they need our continued and deepening support to survive.

Vermont’s business sector must do everything possible to prepare and ensure its businesses can survive the next climate event. Our businesses cannot possibly prepare for future events if they have not recovered from the last.”

Melissa Whittaker, Owner, Positive Pie (Montpelier)
“In July, our company was still reeling from the impact of COVID and had not fully recovered…when the storm hit.

We began to rebuild in an attempt to save our livelihoods and nearly two decades of our work. We have had to gut the entire space from the ground up, which has meant making extensive changes to our infrastructure to mitigate future risks. This has included moving the prep kitchen out of the basement, building a steel loft for storage, moving all electrical equipment upstairs, and adding epoxy flooring, concrete, and brick walls. The new space is being constructed without wood or sheetrock. The rebuild has cost us $600,000.

The cost of mitigation is outrageous, but we know another storm will come, and we want to protect everything we have built over time. All of this while remaining closed without a steady revenue supply. Our company has lost $1 million in sales during July-December alone.

We are drained in every way – mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. The stress has been unbearable. Aside from spending every dime we have my husband has spent every minute he has rebuilding to reopen.

We love Montpelier and the community so much. We add value to our downtown, bring in much revenue for the city and state, and offer needed employment opportunities. Damages to our downtown areas have far-reaching economic effects, and our small businesses’ success directly translates to our communities’ success.

I know that we are not alone when we say that our company cannot financially weather another storm and that there is an urgent need for our city and small businesses to receive support to ensure our survival and success. I hope you will join us in our call to Back the Flood Recovery Assistance Program.”

Yva Rose, Co-Owner, Lamoille Valley Bike Tours (Johnson)
We started eight years ago with a small trailer and a couple of e-bikes. Now, we operate a successful six-figure business and employ up to five part time employees. We own our Trailside Bike Center centrally located directly on the LVRT in Johnson and double the population of the town with our guests over the course of a season.

We work with other local businesses, community groups, and municipalities to enhance the regional tourism experience and economy of our region, undoubtedly bringing in thousands of tourism dollars to Lamoille County alone.

Last year we invested over $40,000 in a new rail trail bike shuttle service providing end to end transportation of bike tourists and their equipment across the state and planned to coincide with the grand opening and continue our support in the State of Vermont’s investment in this trail.

The flood of July 10th severely damaged many areas of the LVRT causing the closure of the entire trail. July through October is peak tourism in Vermont, and we make 90% of our income in this time. The trail closure shut down our entire business immediately. The section of trail on which we operate was not reopened until 57 days after the flood.

We refunded over $10,000 to guests pre-booked through the summer while unable to retain new reservations and income with the indefinite closure of the trail on which we operate.

The trail damage and closure not only impacted us by preventing our operations, but it also hurt future sales, customer experience and relationships, and created a loss of momentum sorely needed for a new business development such as our shuttle service.

We are now recognizing over $100,000 in lost revenue for 2023 which is a significant financial impact to absorb as a small business. While our financial hardship from the flood was significant, our business did not sustain any physical damage and we are not eligible for any of the available disaster assistance funds. Our only recourse was to apply for the SBA economic injury loan. We spent a great deal of time and effort in what was a cumbersome process and were ultimately denied the low interest rate loan.

Our small business serves a public good in providing a much-needed recreation resource amenity and serving as a regional business and local economic development stimulator for the 18 towns along the trail and all of northern Vermont.

The economic injury our business sustained from this disaster will impact us for years to come, which is why we are in support of this Flood Recovery Assistance Program. Please join us by backing the Frap.

Tyler Wren, Owner, Farm to Fork Fitness Adventures (South Hero)
I started Farm to Fork Fitness Adventures ten years ago, and it has grown into a nationally recognized and lauded cycling event series with a fulltime staff of two and seasonal staff of 12. Our mission every July in Vermont is to support farmland preservation by showcasing the farms, food, and natural beauty of Vermont’s Champlain Islands to bicyclists from around the country.

We regularly draw 500 to 1,000 cyclists from more than 30 states and Canadian provinces for the event. An economic impact study of the event in 2018 showed a total direct and indirect economic impact of more than $700,000 on the local economy for the event weekend. Locals in the Islands look forward to hosting the cyclists every summer.

More than 500 participants were expected at our July 15-16, 2023, Champlain Islands event weekend, which was the week of the historic flooding. On Wednesday, July 12, we made the difficult decision to cancel the event because Vermont was under a federal disaster declaration. Our participants were cancelling their travel plans and were generally unsure about being able to travel to Vermont that week. We realized that the event would be unworkable and potentially unsafe that weekend.

We lost over $120,000 in direct revenues from the event weekend and have since lost one of our full-time employees because of declining revenue.

Farm to Fork Fitness Adventures lost no physical or real property in the flood and was thus ineligible for any of the available grants for flood recovery. Our event cancellation insurance did not cover flood. Farm to Fork has received no economic support to help get through this devastating event cancellation.

We are asking Vermont legislators to back the FRAP to help us innovate and invest to better withstand future impacts.

Representative Conor Casey, (District Washington-4) in the Cedar Creek Room at the State House.

Representative Conor Casey, (District Washington-4) in the Cedar Creek Room at the State House in Montpelier, Friday, February 23, urging fellow legislators to BACK THE FRAP by supporting the Flood Recovery Assistance Program (FRAP) provisions in the Flood Omnibus Bill that is being proposed in the wake of the catastrophic flooding of 2023.

Senator Alison Clarkson (District Windsor) in the Cedar Creek Room at the State House in Montpelier, F VT.

Senator Alison Clarkson (District Windsor) in the Cedar Creek Room at the State House in Montpelier, Friday, February 23, urging fellow legislators to BACK THE FRAP by supporting the Flood Recovery Assistance Program (FRAP) provisions in the Flood Omnibus Bill that is being proposed in the wake of the catastrophic flooding of 2023.

About VBSR

VBSR is a statewide, non-profit business association with a mission to leverage the power of business for positive social and environmental impact. VBSR’s 700 member businesses and organizations strive toward a just, thriving, and transformative economy that works for all people and the planet through shared learning, community building, and collective action.