421 issues & Counting

Our 35th birthday retrospective: Zuck, Prince Harry, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have nothing on us

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

We’d love to think that Business People–Vermont (then called Business Digest of Greater Burlington) was the most important startup of 1984, but the honor would likely only appeal to us. Still, considering how many startups go belly-up in the first few years, we’re pretty proud of the fact that, like the Energizer Bunny (who came into being in our fifth year), we’re still going.

Just for fun, with our 421st issue heading to press, here are a few events, individuals, and enterprises also launched in ’84 and still going.

Cirque du Soleil, now the largest theatrical producer in the world, came into being in Montreal; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in comic books; Jeopardy! began its syndicated version, featuring Alex Trebek; and the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference was founded.

cover0189clay_futureBorn in 1984 were Mark Zuckerberg; Trevor Noah; Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex; champion skier and Vermonter Lindsey Vonn; and Clay Awodey, the son of our general manager, Rebecca Awodey. Clay appeared on the cover of our January 1989 issue accompanied by a young girl, Margaret Allard, to illustrate a story called “The Future.”

Over the past 35 years, we’ve profiled a number of business people who founded their companies in 1984. We reconnected with three of them to see how things are going.

neagley2019Mark Neagley
Contributed Photo

Neagley Construction
May 1995 issue

In Michelle Demers’s 1995 story, Mark Neagley was 41 years old and still operating from a tiny office on the third floor of a building on the Church Street Marketplace, in partnership with Mike Goldfield (who left in ’96). Thomas Chase (now board chair) joined the firm as CEO in 1998, which is when the name changed to Neagley & Chase. Andrew Martin, now CEO, joined in 2014. Neagley is company president. They share ownership.

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“You’ve gotta get out of the way for the business to grow,” says Neagley.

In 1995, the company had 10 employees and more than $6 million in sales, a size Neagley claimed to be happy with. This year, he’s expecting $40 million in sales, and has “between 40 and 50 employees, depending on whether we take people on in the summer. There’s so much work out there, we have to turn work away,” he says.

While the company does a lot of construction management, it’s also a general contractor that bids jobs — about 60 percent contract management, 40 percent general contracting.

In 1995, the largest project to date was construction of Main Street Landing, including the Wing and CornerStone buildings. “Right now,” says Neagley, “we’re doing a renovation on one of their buildings for Seventh Generation.”

Since 1995, technology has exploded and plays “a huge role” in construction, he says. “Back then, there were paper files for everything; now it’s all digitized. We can take a building and put it in a computer and figure out how the mechanical systems are going to work through the framing. You have a complete idea of how to fully integrate all the systems of the building before you ever pick up a hammer and nails.”

Communication platforms allow the owner, architect, and contractor to see everything in real time from different spots, he continues. “You no longer have to deliver a paper invoice. If there’s a question for the architect — like ‘What size did you want for that window?’ — it comes back in seconds.”

Energy efficiency has also intensely impacted the industry, Neagley says. “There’s no such thing as an air leak anymore. Buildings used to breathe, and we help them breathe, but there’s no heat coming out. We know the moisture content, and everything. That’s in the last 10 years.”

He mentions recent projects readers might recognize: Caledonia Spirits’ base in Montpelier and the Shelburne Community Center and Library (which makes his heart go “pitter-patter,” he says).

“The historic Town Hall had mold in the basement and terrible insulation and mechanical. It doesn’t look much different, but it’s pulled together now: an extremely high-performance building. You’ll be able to heat it with a candle and cool it with an ice cube: what we’re all striving for these days.”

The company still has its fingers in historic preservation, an early interest sparked by work for Shelburne Farms. He mentions a recent addition to Vermont Public Radio’s building in Fort Ethan Allen as a perfect example of the company’s work.

In 1995, 95 percent of that work was done in Vermont. These days, quite a bit has been added in upstate New York and New Hampshire’s Upper Valley. “We do a lot of food processing,” Neagley says, naming additions to Lake Champlain Chocolates last year, a processing facility for Runamok Maple, and the Trapp Family Brewery in Stowe. “Work on Middlebury College’s Monroe Hall starts this summer, and we’re building a new facility for PetraCliffs abutting the new City Market in the South End.”

Brenda Torpybrenda_torpy_2019c
Contributed Photo

Champlain Housing Trust
July 2012 issue

Champlain Housing Trust was formed in 2006 with the merger of Burlington Community Land Trust and the Lake Champlain Housing Development Corp., which were both founded in 1984. Brenda Torpy, Champlain Housing Trust’s president, was there from the beginning, having created the Burlington Community Land Trust and served as its first board president.

In my 2012 story, I wrote that CHT’s operating budget was $6 million and it owned over $250 million in assets. It paid property taxes to municipalities it served in Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties totaling over $1.2 million a year in Burlington alone. There were more than 2,000 homes in its portfolio — 1,500 apartments and 500 homes in the shared-equity homeownership program — and it had served more than 800 families (which includes resale).

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Now seven years on, the operating budget has reached $11 million. “Assets are around $300 million,” Torpy says. Those include 2,450 rentals and 615 homeownerships, having served over 1,000 families. “Last year Vermont Business announced we were one of the fastest growing companies in the state (that includes nonprofit and for-profit),” she adds.

Under construction are 136 new apartments, the most CHT has ever done at once: 76 at Cambrian Rise (the former site of Burlington College) and 60 at South Burlington’s new City Center.

Much has happened since 2012, including a new focus on assistance to people who are homeless — an addition to CHT’s conventional homes projects. “We bought the motel at Harbor Place in Shelburne as an emergency shelter,” Torpy says, “and put services there. Out of that experience we learned of some other gaps. With The UVM Medical Center, we converted the Bel Aire Motel in Burlington to help people who are discharged from the hospital and have experienced chronic homelessness or are living in unsafe conditions that would inhibit their ability to recover from a medical condition.”

CHT also created Beacon Apartments in South Burlington (at the former Ho Hum Motel) to house chronically ill people with medical vulnerabilities who have been chronically homeless.

A new project — CHT’s first venture that doesn’t include housing — is a community center in Burlington’s Old North End created following a big capital campaign and the purchase of the former St. Joseph’s School. “There are so many community programs going on there,” Torpy says, and mentions Burlington’s Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department; Robin’s Nest Children’s Center; Association of Africans Living in Vermont; the Family Room; and Very Merry Theatre. The building serves an estimated 4,000 people a year through its tenants’ programs, she says.

Another new project is the development of 1 Maiden Lane, a downtown housing project in St. Albans in concert with the city. “We’re also working with Winooski,” she says. “They have a big site where the city owns the land, and they want us to do homeownership, which is very expensive to build for a program, but we are exploring ways to do that.”

CHT was the first municipally supported community land trust in the country, and is still “the biggest community land trust, period,” says Torpy. It presents an example for similar efforts that have sprouted. “In Houston, for example, after the flooding they had, their city committed to rebuild those neighborhoods and make it more sustainable, so they’re doing it as a land trust. Their goal is 1,000 homes.”

adeline-druart2019cAdeline Druart
Contributed Photo

Vermont Butter & Cheese
February 2009 issue

Since Julia Lynam’s February 2009 story about Vermont Butter & Cheese, the founders, Allison Hooper and Bob Reese, have retired. That happened in 2017, the year the company was purchased by Land O’ Lakes, a Minnesota company seeking to invest in a business that was doing something well that it could not do well, according to Hooper in a Seven Days story that year.

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Hooper and Reese had considered forming an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), but the business model was not the best model that would sustain the long-term growth need of the business, says Adeline Druart, now the company’s president, and a vice president at Land O’ Lakes, reporting directly to its executive vice president of dairy foods.

The company’s name had been changed to Vermont Creamery in 2009. “The challenge we were running into,” says Druart, who in ’09 was operations manager, “was that people thought we had butter mixed with the cheese. We said, ‘No, no goat cheese in our butter and no butter in our goat cheese.’”

By 2017, when Land O’ Lakes entered the picture, Druart had been president of Vermont Creamery for two years. Benefits have been immediate, she says. “We get to have access to resources that, as a small business, we would never have been able to afford: expertise around innovation, supply chain, marketing. We were also able to offer an enhanced benefits package to our employees, increased our starting wage, and have done so every year since then. And we now have the benefit of being one of the preferred employers in the state of Vermont.

“I would say we ran out of duct tape,” she quips, referring to the benefit of finding a new parent that would support the company’s need from an infrastructure perspective.” That support was physically evinced by a ground-breaking in May for an expansion to increase the plant capacity and leverage.

The dedication to sourcing milk — goat’s milk and cow’s milk cream — from Vermont producers first, remains the focus, says Druart. “Our cream is coming from St. Albans Co-op, now celebrating 100 years this year. “We’ve been working with them over a decade and have signed a long-term partnership agreement,” says Druart, “so as we grow, they get to grow with us. For goat’s milk, we buy it from three sources: one in Vermont, one in Quebec, and one in Ontario — a co-op with a 35-farm pool. The main reason we have to go outside of Vermont is there’s not enough here.”

The Northeast — Boston, New York, D.C. — continues to be the company’s main distribution area, with two thirds of sales there, but although in 2009, 60 percent of the company’s product went to food service, restaurants, and wholesalers, and 40 percent direct to retailers, since the acquisition, two thirds is retail and one third is food service, Druart says.

National food companies such as Kroger and Whole Foods now carry Vermont Creamery products in their stores. “We’re growing now toward the center and West Coast, becoming slowly but surely nationally distributed,” she says. The aim now is to close the distribution gap across the country. “Montana, for example: We need to be able to give them more than one store.”

Part of that growth strategy is to create new products inspired by the company’s quality reputation and introduce those in a different part of the store. An example is the pending launch of a new butter in stick form that’s easy to use for everyday purposes. It will still be the cultured butter Vermont Creamy is known for, still made from Vermont cream, and with the added feature of packaging made from 100 percent post-consumer waste.

The upshot, says Druart, is, “We [Land O’ Lakes and Vermont Creamery] are very fortunate to have each other. They are learning from a small company that is very entrepreneurial, how we learn and work, and we get to learn from them how to run a business.” •