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Friday, July 9, 2021

Southern Vermont's Jamaica Cottage Shop Sold to New Hampshire Company

Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2021 at 5:13 PM

  • Courtesy Domenic Mangano
  • Domenic Mangano
Jamaica Cottage Shop, a Londonderry company that produces sheds and small homes, was sold Friday  to a homebuilding company in Claremont, N.H.

The business and its 90 employees will stay in Londonderry, said Domenic Mangano, who founded the Cottage Shop in 1995. The purchaser is Bill Silverstein, owner of WHS Homes, which produces homes under an array of brands.

Mangano declined to say how much he sold the company for. But he said the employees probably won’t see much difference in the work they are doing. They were told of the impending sale two weeks ago, said one employee who asked that his name not be used in the story.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Virus Is Under Control, But Workers Remain Scarce in Vermont

Posted By on Tue, Jun 29, 2021 at 4:07 PM

A sign on the front door of a Burlington business - PAULA ROUTLY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Paula Routly ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign on the front door of a Burlington business
If Congress extends the $300 weekly unemployment insurance supplement, now due to expire in September, Vermont would turn it down, Gov. Phil Scott said at his regular COVID-19 press briefing Tuesday.

Five jobs are available in the state for every person who is seeking work, said Scott, and Vermont needs to do everything it can to encourage people to take one. He thinks the extra unemployment insurance money might be serving as a deterrent.

“I think it’s gone on long enough," he said of the federal funding. "We would let it lapse.”

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Surprise Koffee Kup Buyer Emerges, Won't Reopen Bakeries

Posted By on Mon, Jun 7, 2021 at 5:47 PM

Koffee Kup in Burlington - MATTHEW ROY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
  • Koffee Kup in Burlington
Flowers Foods, a publicly traded Georgia-based company that makes Wonder Bread and other well-known brands, stepped in as the last-minute buyer of Koffee Kup Bakery’s assets on Monday.

That's bad news for those who hoped that Koffee Kup's bakeries in Burlington and Brattleboro, which closed abruptly in April, would reopen soon.

"This acquisition brings brands and production capacity in the Northeast, a key growth market for our company," said Ryals McMullian, president and CEO of Flowers Foods. "We have no immediate plans to reopen the bakeries but will be assessing how they may fit our strategic network optimization efforts in the future."

The last-minute change, noted during a remote hearing in Chittenden Superior Court, surprised the previously announced buyer, Blair Hyslop of Mrs. Dunster’s, a Canadian company. Mrs. Dunster's had already started creating new employment contracts with former Koffee Kup workers.

Hyslop said he was planning a Zoom town meeting with employees from both Vermont locations for Monday night. “For now, I will just say that this has come out of left field, and we are shocked and dismayed at the news,” he said.

The struggling 80-year-old Koffee Kup closed its plants in Vermont and Connecticut in April, displacing 500 workers. They included 156 in Burlington and 91 in Brattleboro. Its owners had negotiated unsuccessfully with  KeyBank to resolve the company's debt.

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Vermont Lawmakers Opt to Continue Funding Newcomers' Moving Expenses

Posted By on Thu, May 20, 2021 at 8:36 PM

The Turner family, who got a moving grant after relocating to Cambridge - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • The Turner family, who got a moving grant after relocating to Cambridge
Vermont will continue to reimburse some newcomers’ moving expenses through its new worker program, but lawmakers have called for a study to determine whether it actually attracts people who wouldn’t have moved to the state otherwise.

The House on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of a bill that includes $630,000 for the program. The bill has been sent to the governor for his signature.

The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs had proposed this year to make the popular program permanent, and to spend $1 million annually to reimburse workers who were new to the state up to $5,000 for moving expenses. That amount could rise to $7,500 for someone who moved to an area with a higher-than-average unemployment rate or lower-than-average annual wages.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Hoffer: Vermont's Dairy Industry Netted $285 Million in State Support Over a Decade

Posted By on Mon, May 10, 2021 at 1:47 PM

  • File ©️ Seven Days
Vermont has spent $285 million to support its struggling dairy industry in the last decade, according to a new report from the state auditor’s office.

The tax breaks, reduced fees, grants and technical assistance that the dwindling number of dairy farms received between 2010 and 2019 illustrate just how dependent the industry has become on state assistance for its survival.

Unlike other reports from State Auditor Doug Hoffer’s office that attempt to ferret out fraud or waste in state spending, the “investigative report” neither finds fault with the funding nor recommends any changes.

“This report is intended to serve as a resource for State policymakers, program managers, and the public as they consider the future of dairy in Vermont and what role public funds should play," the report states.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Commissioner: Unemployment Fraud Has Cost Vermont Millions

Posted By on Tue, May 4, 2021 at 10:37 AM

Former governor Howard Dean with multiple information booklets for new claimants that he received - COURTESY PHOTO: HOWARD DEAN
  • Courtesy photo: Howard Dean
  • Former governor Howard Dean with multiple information booklets for new claimants that he received
The state Department of Labor doesn’t have a timeline for reopening its online claims filing system, saying that reverting to its old system of taking claims only by phone has dramatically reduced a flood of fraudulent claims.

The department disabled its online application last week after a surge of fraud that started in mid-April. Individuals or groups in the U.S. and internationally have been using people's names, addresses and other personal information to file fraudulent claims, collecting the money through direct deposits.

On Monday, Labor Commissioner Mike Harrington said 2,300 new claims came in April 27, and 1,700 on the following day. After the department disabled its online application, the numbers plummeted to just 159 on Thursday, 154 on Friday, and 30 on Saturday, said Harrington.

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Friday, April 30, 2021

Widespread Fraud Prompts Vermont to Disable Online Unemployment Claims

Posted By on Fri, Apr 30, 2021 at 5:39 PM

  • Designer491 | Dreamstime
The Vermont Department of Labor disabled its online unemployment claim application because more than 90 percent of the claims filed were flagged as fraudulent, the department announced Friday afternoon.

Earlier this week, state Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington told Seven Days that as many as 70 percent of the claims filed this month were fraudulent. The U.S. Department of Justice has cited a national wave of unprecedented unemployment insurance fraud and has set up a task force to combat it.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean told Seven Days on Sunday that he had gotten no fewer than 10 booklets for claimants, which the department mails automatically to people who filed for benefits. Dean said he had filed no claim. And even after he reported what was happening, he said, the mailings kept coming. "This is crazy," he said.

The state will continue to accept new claims, but they must come in by phone through the UI Claimant Assistance Center at 877-214-3330. It's open Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Companies Leap to Hire Koffee Kup's Former Employees

Posted By on Wed, Apr 28, 2021 at 6:24 PM

  • Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
Two days after Koffee Kup announced it was closing its two Vermont bakeries, Christina Ramirez, marketing manager at Joseph’s Bakery in Lawrence, Mass., invited Koffee Kup’s former sales and marketing vice president into her office to brainstorm. They discussed ways to steer Koffee Kup’s former Brattleboro workers to Lawrence, 100 miles to the east.

Ninety-one employees in Brattleboro were affected by the closure of Vermont Bread, which is owned by Koffee Kup’s parent, KUPCO. Another 156 lost jobs in Burlington.

Employers saw an opportunity. TwinCraft, a soap company in Winooski, put signs on the door of the Koffee Kup bakery in Burlington saying that TwinCraft was hiring. Hannaford, the supermarket chain, reached out to former Koffee Kup workers on Facebook, emphasizing that it has jobs in Burlington.

There appears to be no shortage of positions for the workers who were abruptly terminated Monday. The state Department of Labor has already heard from still other employers eager to contact them.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pension Task Force Bill Advances Despite Unions' Objections

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2021 at 7:03 PM

  • JESS SUTTNER ©️ Seven Days
Nearly two weeks after Democratic leaders shelved plans to tackle pension reform this legislative session, plans for a task force charged with tackling the issue this summer are taking shape.

A bill approved Wednesday by the House Government Operations Committee would create a 15-member Pension Design and Funding Task Force to generate ideas for fixing the state’s ailing pension system.

The bill would also add three new members to the existing seven-member committee focused on pension investments, which has come under legislative scrutiny for the investments' poor investment returns.

Taken together, the measures would tweak the pension governance structure this legislative session while putting off until next year the more controversial changes to future benefits and contribution rates for the state’s current 17,300 employees and teachers.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

Vermont Lawmakers Shelve Pension Reform Plan

Posted By on Fri, Apr 2, 2021 at 2:47 PM

House Speaker Jill Krowinski - FILE
  • File
  • House Speaker Jill Krowinski
House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) has shelved plans for sweeping reform to the state’s teetering pension system following fierce blowback from public employees and the erosion of support among Democratic leaders.

Krowinski announced Friday morning that instead of pushing changes that would increase costs and reduce benefits for most of the state’s 17,300 state employees and teachers, she would instead form a summer task force to explore the issue further.

“It's clear that people are struggling with how to find real systemic change to resolve this crisis right now,” she said.

Instead, lawmakers would focus on changes to the governance structure of the pension system in an effort to improve the anemic investment returns, which, along with losses from the Great Recession, have contributed to an unfunded liability that has ballooned to $3 billion. When health care and other long-term costs for the state’s 18,500 retirees is considered, that number swells to $5.6 billion.

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