Conference sows entrepreneurial seeds for growth
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | March 26,2013
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Castleton State College President David Wolk welcomes Lawrence Miller, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, at a business seminar at the college Monday.
CASTLETON — Lawrence Miller knows something about entrepreneurship. Before his current job as secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Miller started Otter Creek Brewing.
But getting to the point where the Middlebury brewery could be considered a success had its challenges, Miller told the 200 attendees at an all-day business conference at Castleton State College on Monday.
Miller was one of a number of speakers and workshops that focused on practices to help new businesses and budding entrepreneurs.
Rutland business leaders started off the Grow Your Business Over-Easy seminar with a pitch on why the city and the area is an ideal place to do business, including the city’s pro-business attitude, workforce and transportation infrastructure.
They pointed to a series of recent positive developments anchored by Green Mountain Power’s new Energy Innovation Center in the heart of the downtown.
Brennan Duffy, executive director of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, gave a short PowerPoint presentation ticking off a list of what the city has to offer.
“Strategic location, lower cost real estate, a strong workforce, robust infrastructure, business friendly environment and a great quality of life,” Duffy said.
He said there are financial incentives available including commercial and industrial tax stabilization.
In terms of job growth, Duffy said while the county has lost jobs in the last decade the city has experienced 4 percent job growth. “That’s a positive sign for the city,” he said.
In discussing the Vermont economy, Miller said “income improvement” has not kept pace with the cost of living. “That needs to change,” he said. “We need better wages, we need better income, we need it across the spectrum.”
Miller said the problem is that while companies are more productive, those companies are doing it with fewer workers.
“So what do we need, we need more firms,” he said. “How do we get more firms, we need more entrepreneurs and that’s what a day like this is all about.”
The seminar also featured nuts and bolts topics.
Stuart Meyer, a lawyer with Fenwick & West, explained the importance of protecting intellectual property (patents, trademark, copyright).
Robert Buzzell, a Rutland certified public accountant, gave a primer on using EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) as one method in assessing the value of a business and comparing it to other businesses.
For the budding entrepreneur, KiKi McShane of Chris Fucci Associates, warned that any new business will experience growing pains and will need to adapt to uncertainties as they come along.
The key, McShane said, is managing change and conflict toward a positive outcome.
“Entrepreneurial means take risks, be future oriented and deal with conflict because conflict is creative,” she said.
Miller gave an example of how he adapted to the enviable problem of Otter Creek Brewing having an abundance of orders.
“It was flying, really flying,” Miller recalled. “Growth was very high, couldn’t make enough product.”
That concerned his distributor, Baker Distributing of Rutland. Miller said Joe Baker paid him a visit to the Middlebury brewery and gave him some valuable advice. Over the years, he said Baker continued to take the time to guide him as he grew the business.
Miller said seeking sound advice is critical to the success of any business, especially when the unexpected happens.
“Those are both professional advisers and board of advisers, your mentors, people you can call,” he said. “You can’t always call your professional advisers at 10’clock at night.”
The afternoon was devoted to specific workshops on agriculture and specialty food products, high tech industries and energy. Moderators included Mary Powell, president and CEO of Green Mountain Power; Cairn Cross, co-founder and managing director of FreshTracks Capital; and Jim Harrison, president of Vermont Grocers Association.
The conference held in Glenbrook Gym, gave Castleton State College President David Wolk the opportunity to talk about the school’s entrepreneurial approach to its operations to remain competitive with other schools.
“Although we’re a public college, we have the lowest percentage of state assistance in the country at 9 percent, next year it will be 8 percent,’ Wolk said. “And that’s not a complaint, that’s not whining, that’s just what it is.”
He said the college has been successful in its ability to expand over the last decade with campus improvements approaching $73 million.
The conference was organized by Chris Fucci Associates.