Wholesome Dwelling Market, Lawson’s Most interesting Liquids and Union Mutual are finalists for Deane C Davis Award

Vermont Business Magazine Vermont is home to different types of businesses, ones that are good to their employees, customers, the environment and the Vermont community. Every year, Vermont Business Magazine and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce honor a Vermont business that demonstrates an outstanding history of sustained growth while displaying an acute awareness of what makes Vermont unique.

The Deane C Davis Outstanding Vermont Business of the Year Award, named for the former Vermont governor and established in 1990, boasts three finalists again this year.

They are: Healthy Living Market of So Burlington, Lawson’s Finest Liquids of Waitsfield and Union Mutual of Montpelier.

The winner of the DCD Award will be announced in mid-June, details will be announced soon. Until that time, one of the most important traditions of the award will remain intact; the winner’s identity is kept secret, even from the finalists, until the moment the award is presented.

Out of a list of nominations, a panel of distinguished judges had the difficult task of determining the finalists and the ultimate winner.

This year’s finalists all demonstrate some of the best attributes that a business in Vermont can achieve.

Healthy Living Market

For almost 40 years Healthy Living Market and Café has been a Vermont institution, dedicated to excellence in products, service, and jobs. With a second store in Upstate NY and a third store in Williston Vermont, Healthy Living is quickly becoming an iconic brand to emerge from Vermont. Healthy Living has steadily added jobs over the past 10 years, growing from about 100 employees 10 years ago to nearly 350 today. Woman-founded and owned, Katy Lesser was the Vermont SBA Small Business Person of the Year in 2009 and continues to be a trailblazing visionary in the Natural Foods industry.

Supporting the communities they serve has been a core value of theirs since the start. Community outreach and service are front and center in how they run the business. They’ve worked with local non-profit organizations for years; “groups that have small budgets and big hearts,” as they like to say. Their ongoing Front End fundraisers encourage guests to round up their transactions to support local organizations. Healthy Living matches these contributions, doubling the gifts made to the community. They also budget allowances for giving money to specific causes and groups. Over the years they have partnered with organizations like Spectrum, Vermont Children’s Trust, UVM Medical Center, COTS, Vermont Food Bank, Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf and hundreds more.

Healthy Living puts staff first. Their decision-making process starts with the staff, seeking to understand how individuals are affected and how decisions can benefit them. Creating valuable jobs is their greatest joy, and over the years their focus has been to create a positive place to work where staff can learn, grow, and move up in the company. Even pre-COVID, Healthy Living was a positive place to work with a focus on the energy each employee brings to work. The pandemic was a huge culture builder for Healthy Living; they never closed during the stay-at-home order of 2020 and remained open while many businesses were closing or having staff work remotely. The staff came together as a team, rallied behind each other, and worked with the common goal of staying safe and providing an essential service to the people and communities they serve. Communication and transparency became a daily task for leadership. Staff expressed their concerns and needs, and the leadership team was able to say “yes!” to their clear requests.

In 2020, amid a global pandemic where 1000’s of businesses were closing their doors, Healthy Living opened a third store in Williston, Vermont, proudly adding 60 jobs to the Vermont workforce. They are committed to continued growth over the coming decade and providing a wide variety of jobs to more and more people.

Katy Lesser, owner of Healthy Living Market said on learning they were named a finalist, “Giving back to the community in all ways – donations, volunteering, creating jobs, supporting local agriculture, working with our towns – is a big part of our core values.  The good feeling we got when we made our first tiny donation – $25 to a local pre-school – 35 years ago has never faded. Over the years we’ve gone from a staff of 3 to over 300. Our Community Outreach Team makes sure hundreds of local organizations with small budgets and big hearts receive our funding.  Local farmers and producers have become “rock stars” thanks to our focus on getting their products on our shelves. And we have worked with two Vermont communities to beautify our space on their streets.  The Deane C. Davis award has reminded us of our achievements and we’re moved to do more!”

Lawson’s Finest Liquids

Lawson’s Finest is guided by their five Pillars – Excellence, Authenticity, Fun, Community and Innovation. These values are represented in their product quality, work culture, guest experience and philanthropy. Integrity guides their mission and vision. They are torchbearers in the craft beer industry to ensure their beer is fresh, has exceptional flavor quality, and is consistent from batch to batch.

Co-owner Karen Lawson states, “Lawson’s Finest Liquids is truly honored to be recognized amongst the most outstanding Vermont businesses. Their commitment to charitable giving is unwavering to ensure that they support both the people and places that are vital to healthy communities. They are proud to put their business values into action for the betterment of their state.” 

Their current taproom business model allows them to harness the generosity of their guests through their donation program. The Sunshine Fund helps local communities thrive and is the heart of the Lawson’s Finest Social Impact Program (SIP), designed to assist nonprofits that support the people and environment of their state.

At Lawson’s Finest there is no tip obligation when guests come to the taproom. When guests choose to leave a donation, 100% is given to the organization that has been designated “On Tap” via the Sunshine Fund. Since Lawson’s Finest opened their Waitsfield facilities in October 2018, taproom guests have donated over $575,000 to more than 40 Vermont-based non-profit organizations.

Lawson’s Finest provides donations to support various nonprofit organizations across their Northeast distribution territory. They generously donated over $100,000 on Giving Tuesday to 35 central Vermont nonprofit organizations.

Sean and Karen Lawson’s Great Place to Work initiative has made a commitment to providing sustainability and security to their workforce through living wages and generous benefits. In 2020 they added a wellness Benefit which reimburses staff for expenses that promote health and well-being. In 2021 they are planning to add a Paid Family Leave benefit.

They encourage staff participation and input within their collaborative work environment. They hold quarterly staff meetings where information is shared, and staff input is encouraged. They host offsite biannual staff retreats to further professional development, improve company culture. They did not lay off any staff during the pandemic, and also gave all staff $100 gift certificates for redemption at local restaurants early in the pandemic to support not only their employees but their business peers.

Lawson’s Finest is committed to continual innovation and investment in efficiency, while taking steps to green-up its beer production process and minimize their impact in a resource-intensive manufacturing business. Lawson’s Finest also constructed a new, state of the art wastewater treatment facility and implemented extensive side-streaming efforts to remove solids and organic loads from their wastewater stream.

Lawson’s Finest installed a solar array that enables the company to tap into renewable energy for its production processes. In 2020, Lawson’s Finest installed a series of electric vehicle (EV) chargers at their location. Their EV chargers will be FREE to the public and anyone will be welcome to use them at no charge.

Since 2008, Lawson’s Finest Liquids (LFL) has established incredible brand name awareness, international recognition, and a committed customer base throughout Vermont, the Northeast US and beyond. Sean and Karen Lawson founded LFL with a vision to make the highest quality beer in the world, with unparalleled freshness in a range of traditional and unique styles.

Union Mutual

Union Mutual, a property/casualty insurance company based in Montpelier for over 140 years, exemplifies the standards set by Governor Deane C. Davis during his lifelong devotion to service and success. The mission of Union Mutual is to provide superior insurance products via unparalleled customer service.

“We are proud to be a finalist for the Deane C. Davis Vermont Outstanding Business of the Year, and congratulate the other finalists on a job well done in a most challenging year,” Union Mutual President & CEO Lisa Keysar said. “Vermont is a special place to live and to do business. Together with our valued agency partners, we are committed to the Vermont tradition of ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors.’ It is an honor to be considered for an award that bears Deane C. Davis’ name, as he gave so much to Union Mutual as a Director on our Board and to the vibrant business community of our great state.”

From all levels of the company, they dedicate both time and resources to support a wide variety of community organizations – from food banks in all seven states they write business in, the Special Olympics of Vermont, and numerous other non-profit organizations close to the hearts of their employees and independent agency partners alike.

Within moments of deciding to transition to work-from-home, Union Mutual recognized a tremendous need and responded, implementing the Neighbors Helping Neighbors initiative, pledging to support a few area restaurants with a guarantee to purchase 100 meals from each per week. Union Mutual was also instrumental in the funding, development and dispersal of the Montpelier Economic Need and Distress (MEND) Fund, providing grants to 76 area businesses.

Union Mutual is committed to a positive work environment of continuous learning and development for employees. These commitments are taken very seriously by the company, and opportunities are provided to all employees to further their education, attend networking events, and enhance their career opportunities. Union Mutual implemented an Employee Development Program in 2017, where current employees are given the opportunity to explore other departments within the Company, ultimately building a more well-rounded, experienced workforce within their own walls.

Union Mutual encourages open communication with all staff members. Quarterly the management team meets with all employees, even throughout the pandemic, to provide financial updates and answers questions or concerns. During the pandemic the company continues its commitment to each and every employee including additional mental health resources, particularly in the wake of the sudden passing of their President & CEO Michael Nobles. Never were the employee culture’s strengths more apparent than in the days, weeks and months following his death.

Union Mutual continues to move toward a paperless process, implementing technology to not only increase the ease of doing business but also to protect natural resources. They encourage employees to go paperless during their workday, have implemented a successful paperless process for bill pay and other policyholder resources, and Union Mutual participates in Casella Waste Management’s Closed Loop Recycling program. Union Mutual has also installed a large solar array on the rooftop of its Montpelier home office that has both the intended impact on energy costs but does so without diminishing the natural beauty of downtown Montpelier. Union Mutual is a proud annual sponsor of Green Up Vermont, which was so important to Deane C. Davis, and dozens of employees help green up a large section of their Montpelier neighborhood.

Deane C Davis: The Man Behind the Award

“All three businesses have shown great merit as finalists for the Deane C Davis Award. Like Davis himself—former governor, president of National Life of Vermont, and environmentalist—each finalist reflects Vermont’s diverse nature and, at the same time, radiates a savvy business sense” said John Boutin Publisher of Vermont Business Magazine and co-presenter of the award. “These finalists reflect the very best of Vermont business,” said Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop. “They have committed to sustainable growth, activated and supported their employees during a challenging year, and continue to honor and build upon what makes their state’s economy unique. Every year, they recognize exceptional businesses through the Deane C. Davis Award, and every year, I am newly impressed by the innovation and business excellence homegrown in Vermont. Congratulations to the 2020 finalists.”

The criteria for this Award include:

  • Growth in sales or employment.
  • Commitment of company resources for participation in community projects.
  • Encouragement of employees to be involved in community events.
  • Recognition of the importance of the environment to the state as a natural and economic resource.
  • Addressing employee concerns/needs to create a positive work environment for all employees.
  • Nominated businesses must have been based in Vermont for at least 10 years.

The 2020 Deane C Davis Award Selection Committee

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce and Vermont Business Magazine sincerely thank the members of this year’s Selection Committee. The committee meets behind closed doors to review the award nominations. These dedicated volunteers are held in high regard for their enthusiasm and strong commitment to the spirit of the Deane C Davis Award.

Cassie Polhemus, CEO, Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA)

Thomas Leavitt, President & CEO, Northfield Savings Bank

Nicole Junas Ravlin, President & CEO, Junapr

Betsy Bishop, President, Vermont Chamber

John Boutin, Publisher, Vermont Business Magazine

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