MONTPELIER — Governor-elect Peter Shumlin has tapped two Addison County residents to be part of a leadership team that will help him confront such challenges as jumpstarting the state’s economy, developing a long-term energy plan and making new strides in health care reform.
Shumlin on Monday named Ripton resident and Otter Creek Brewing founder Lawrence Miller to serve as his secretary of commerce and community development at the forefront of what he called his “job creation team.” That came a week after Shumlin selected Ferrisburgh resident Beth Robinson to serve as his general counsel.
Shumlin told the Associated Press that in choosing the top leadership for his administration he is looking for “competence, vision and the ability to get tough things done.
“The decisions we’re making in the next two weeks will determine how successful we are over the next two years,” he added.
Miller, 44, currently CEO for Middlebury-based Danforth Pewter, said he is looking forward to his new job.
“Wrestling through it was tough, but as I thought my way through it, it became easy,” he said during an interview with the Addison Independent. “There are very few opportunities to ‘return the favor’ that come along in this way. I have benefited from the support of a great many people in developing Otter Creek and in the other businesses I have worked on … and when I thought about where that has brought me, I could not refuse.”
Robinson is a partner at the Middlebury-based law firm of Langrock, Sperry & Wool and is best known statewide for her lawyering and advocacy on behalf of marriage equality.
“I got a call and I was quite honored,” Robinson, 45, said of the job offer, which she quickly accepted. “It is an amazing opportunity.”
Robinson and Miller are but two of several cabinet-level appointments announced by a Shumlin administration that is still taking shape. The incoming governor still has other key jobs to fill, including secretary of human services; public safety commissioner; and secretary of natural resources.
Appointees announced to date (along with Miller and Robinson) include current state Treasurer Jeb Spaulding as secretary of administration; Democratic party strategist Bill Lofy as chief of staff; state Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Hyde Park, as special assistant to the governor specializing in budget and broadband issues; Shumlin campaign manager Alexandra MacLean as spokeswoman and secretary of civil and military affairs; Chuck Ross, longtime aide to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, as Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets; former Vermont Labor Commissioner Patricia Moulton Powden, as deputy secretary of Commerce and Community Development; Annie Noonan, former head of the Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA), to serve as labor commissioner; Jim Reardon will continue as the Commissioner of Finance and Management.
Miller has indeed enjoyed a fast rise in Vermont’s economic development scene. Twenty years ago, Miller was working solo, crafting Otter Creek Brewing’s products out of a small space on Middlebury’s Exchange Street. He built the brewery into a regional powerhouse, selling the company in 2002. Miller then developed an independent advisory practice focusing on manufacturers of consumer products including start-ups, high growth companies, and turnarounds. He also served on the Committee of Operating Executives at Worth Mountain Capital Partners and as a peer advisor with the Vermont Peer-to-Peer Collaborative, now housed at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
In 2007 Miller was named chairman and CEO at Danforth Pewter, where he has led a migration strategy from wholesale to multi-channel consumer marketing, including acquisition of compatible pewter brands.
Miller has direct experience in dealing with the agency he will now lead. He currently serves on the oversight panel for the reform of State and Regional Economic Development and Planning services, which was created as part of Challenges for Change. He is a past board member of the Vermont Economic Progress Council, including two years as chairman. He was also the first chairman of the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund, and currently serves on the advisory committee of the new Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Flexible Capital Fund. He has been a member of the North Country Angels investment group for several years.
Miller said Shumlin’s camp reached out to see if he would be interested in serving as secretary of commerce. While considering the request, Miller made note of the other people who had agreed to join the incoming governor’s cabinet.
“Recognizing the decisions that Jeb Spaulding and Susan Bartlett had made, I said, ‘I’m certainly not going to turn down a conversation,’ because here are a couple of people I really respect who have made a significant decision,” Miller said.
He then went to speak with Shumlin.
“I found him to be very persuasive,” said Miller, who formally accepted the job last Thursday, Nov. 18.
As secretary of commerce, Miller’s job will be to help stimulate business growth in the Green Mountain State, working with — among other entities — Vermont’s economic development corporations, regional planning commissions, travel and tourism organizations and community development programs.
Above all, Miller wants to get all of the organizational players on the same page when it comes to promoting and facilitating economic development.
“There is a piece of economic development in every agency in the state,” Miller said. “Our view is that we need to build a team across all of the agencies to identify the obstacles to economic development and job creation and help to eliminate those obstacles; to help identify the ways each agency can contribute to realizing our opportunities, or which we have a great many; and to help coordinate that cross-agency team.”
Miller noted the state can’t unilaterally create private-sector jobs.
“It’s a question of developing entrepreneurs, making it easier for people to start companies and making sure people have access to the things they need that we can provide,” Miller said. “But really, it comes to rest on the individual entrepreneur making a judgment that their risk will be rewarded and that we have been in their corner.”
As secretary of commerce, Miller said he will build on economic development strategies that have served the state well, particularly during the recent recession.
“We need to be responsive to the changed climate and the changing needs of the citizens,” Miller said.
Asked if the state should consider environmental permitting reform to expedite business growth, Miller said, “I think it can be open for discussion, but personally, the last time I looked, the number of permits that came through Act 250 without conditions and on time was very, very high,” Miller said. “That suggests that the system, overall, works well. There continue to be some horror-show examples, and we need to look at those horror-show examples to figure out if there are adjustments that need to be made. But if, by and large, people are experiencing predictable permitting and not a lot of conditions, that would suggest things are sound.”
Looking forward, Miller wants to see Vermont make strides in extending the state’s broadband Internet coverage, boosting its manufacturing base, diversifying its agricultural economy, and making inroads in exporting educational software and other high-tech products.
“These are things that will continue to make Vermont an environmentally and economically healthy place to work,” Miller said. “We have to do both.”
In her new capacity as general counsel to the governor, Robinson will advise Shumlin on the potential legal ramifications of issues that come before him, will review legislation before he signs it into law, and will provide guidance in cases of pardon requests and other matters.
“There is a wide range of policy duties,” she said. “I’ll certainly have an eclectic and broad range of work.”
Robinson acknowledged she won’t know all the demands of her new job until she gets started.
“I am going to be learning on the job, like everyone,” she said.
Robinson, and her new boss, are confident she will be up to the task. She has worked for Langrock, Sperry & Wool for the past 18 years, working in a diverse array of cases, including workers compensation, personal injury, Constitutional law, gay and lesbian issues and general civil litigation.
She’ll have to leave what she called “the greatest law firm in the world” to take her current job, adding she hoped to return to the practice sometime in the future if circumstances allow.
She will also step down as chairwoman of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Action Committee.
Robinson served as co-counsel to the plaintiffs in Baker v. State, Vermont’s landmark case involving the constitutional rights of same-sex couples, helped lead the lobbying effort that led to the passage of Vermont’s civil union law in 2000, and helped lead the effort in 2009 that culminated in the Legislature’s passage of a bill extending the legal right to marry to same-sex couples.
“It is important to bring total focus (to my new job) at this time,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is a snapshot of Shumlin’s cabinet appointees thus far:
• Chuck Ross, Secretary of Agriculture. Ross has been the director of Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office for the last 16 years. In addition to his management responsibilities he has focused on the issues of sustainable development, energy and emerging business opportunities, including opportunities relating to agriculture and food systems. During this time he has also helped manage his family’s farming interests in Vermont and Iowa.
Prior to working for Leahy, Ross worked on his family’s farms and served as the state representative from Hinesburg. While in the Vermont House, he served on the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, including as its chairman.
Ross has served on the boards of the University of Vermont (UVM), Shelburne Farms, Fletcher Allen Health Care, the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at UVM, and Leadership Champlain. He currently serves as a liaison to the Vermont Council of Rural Development. He lives in Hinesburg with his family.
Ross’s appointment drew praise from current Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Albee and Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee.
“I think that Chuck brings a lot to the job, at the state and federal levels (where he’s developed useful experience and connections that will serve our farmers well), and at the local level where I know he has an interest in cultivating the next generation of Vermont farmers and understands the importance of creating production and market opportunities,” Stevens said.
“He’s a straight shooter who likes to get things done, and he’ll have some challenges navigating the agency through difficult times (in terms of tight budgets and reduced staff),” Stevens added. “I hope he has the full support of the Shumlin administration behind him.”
• Jeb Spaulding, Secretary of Administration. Spaulding has served as state treasurer since 2003 and is immediate past president of the National Association of State Treasures.
His office is responsible for the state’s cash, debt, and investment management. During his tenure as Treasurer, Vermont regained a triple-A bond rating for the first time since the 1970s and now has the most favorable credit rating of all New England states. Spaulding has been tapped by the Legislature on multiple occasions to develop solutions to ongoing fiscal challenges, such as escalating pension costs and funding for deteriorating roads and bridges.
As state treasurer, he serves on many boards. Prior to being elected state treasurer, Spaulding served eight terms in the Vermont Senate as a Democrat from Montpelier from 1985-2000. During his Senate tenure, he served at times as chair of the Appropriations, Education, and Joint Fiscal Committees. Spaulding was a founder and general manager of WNCS-FM in Montpelier and a partner in Precision Media Inc. He has also served as the director of the Vermont Academy of Science and Technology at Vermont Technical College, an adjunct instructor at Norwich University, and as director of Adult and Technical Education at the Vermont Department of Education.
• Bill Lofy, Chief of Staff. Lofy has 16 years of experience managing political and policy initiatives at the state, national, and international levels. He served for seven years as a senior advisor to U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and as an advisor to the Vermont legislative leadership in 2006-2007. For the past three years, Lofy has served as deputy political director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where his responsibilities included managing the transition for U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
Lofy is the author of a biography of Wellstone and co-author of two campaign management books. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Cape Verde Islands in West Africa and served as a development worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
• Alexandra MacLean, Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs. MacLean is a native Vermonter who most recently served as Shumlin’s campaign manager. Prior to the campaign, MacLean was Shumlin’s aide in the Senate President Pro Tem’s office. In addition to serving for three years in these roles, she holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She grew up in the Northeast Kingdom, where she continues to reside.
• Annie Noonan, Labor Commissioner. Noonan has more than 33 years professional experience in labor relations, government and legislative lobbying in Vermont and New England, including a long tenure as the executive director of the VSEA. She worked for five years for UVM’s Career Planning and Placement Office, assisting students, local residents and Vietnam War veterans with job searches. She works for the University of Connecticut Professional Employees and is in charge of labor relations, arbitration and health and safety division.
Through the years, Noonan has been appointed by Vermont governors and legislative leaders to serve on study committees for government accountability and efficiency; public pensions; PTSD in public safety workers; revamping public sector contract funding; telecommuting; the council on diversity and affirmative action; and the joint labor-management committee on child and elder care.
• Patricia Moulton Powden, Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Community Development. Moulton Powden joined the Vermont Chamber as the vice president of public affairs in July. Prior to that, she served as labor commissioner for four years under Gov. James Douglas. Before that, she served as the full-time chair of the Vermont Natural Resources Board.
Prior to her environmental regulation and policy work, Moulton Powden had worked a total of 22 years for different local and regional development corporations, helping companies start up, expand and relocate to Vermont. In 1990, she was appointed deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development by the Gov. Richard Snelling and subsequently appointed commissioner of Economic Development by Gov. Howard Dean.
Moulton Powden also ran her own economic development consulting company for several years.
She is a native Vermonter, born in Rutland and educated in public schools in Montpelier and Hartford.
• Susan Bartlett, Special Assistant Specializing in Budget and Broadband. Bartlett has served in the state Senate since 1993, and in recent years led the Senate Appropriations Committee. She was among five Democrats, including Shumlin, to vie for the Democrat nomination for governor this past August.
• Jim Reardon, Commissioner of Finance and Management. Reardon is widely recognized for his ability to resolve longstanding financial reporting problems and for his abilities to develop agency budgets, goals, policies and work with the Legislature on crafting the state budget. Reardon has served both Republican and Democratic governors in positions relating to the development and execution of budgets. He served as deputy commissioner of finance and management and as financial operations manager for the Agency of Human Services.
Reardon graduated from Bentley College with a B.S. in Accountancy. He is a Certified Public Accountant and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Vermont Society of Certified Public Accountants. He and his wife reside in Essex Town.