Saturday, April 13

Finalists for Deane Davis Outstanding Vermont Business of the Year Award 2021

Caledonia Spirits, Healthy Living Market and Hickok and Boardman Insurance Group

VermontBiz Vermont is a home to unique kinds of businesses, ones that are good to their employees, customers, the environment and the Vermont community. Every year, VermontBiz 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: Caledonia Spirits of Montpelier, Healthy Living Market of South Burlington and Hickok and Boardman Insurance Group of Burlington.

The winner of the DCD Award will be announced in mid-August at the VermontBiz 50th Anniversary celebration. 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.


Caledonia Spirits

Caledonia Spirits has exemplified the DCD Award Standards of Excellence since their inception and continues to seek new ways to evolve – or as they call it, Raise the Barr. Since their early days, they have seen steady growth in both sales and number of employees. They attribute this success to their unwavering commitment to supporting all stakeholders of the business: their community, the natural environment, and their employees.

The story of Barr Hill Gin begins with a beekeeper and a distiller working together in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Barr Hill was founded by a Vermont beekeeper, Todd Hardie, who called upon Ryan Christiansen, now Barr Hill’s President and Head Distiller, to help him perfect Barr Hill Gin. Whether using raw honey, organic rye and barley or maple syrup, the stills in their distillery are a route to market for local farmers. Raw honey is the foundational ingredient in their spirits and cocktails, and contributes terroir through the foraging work of the bees.

Community relations is woven into the primary marketing and operational activities of Caledonia Spirits. Caledonia Spirits has created multiple programs to support the Montpelier and greater Vermont community. The Community Donations Program is their longest running initiative, and the success of this program has inspired company-wide paid volunteer days. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, they saw an immediate need in the community and pivoted their manufacturing efforts to making hand sanitizer. When opening the Montpelier distillery and bar in July of 2019, they implemented a Community Donations program to raise funds for non-profit organizations in lieu of tips at the bar. Each month, all Caledonia Spirits employees are invited to nominate a non-profit community donation recipient. The recipients are then vetted and approved by their employee-led committees. Since the inception of this program, they have donated over $200,000 to various organizations.

At Caledonia Spirits, they create a positive work environment through living their values, offering best in class benefits, and fostering team enrichment and engagement. Their values are near and dear to who they are as an organization and define how they behave as stewards of the organization’s mission. Pour our Promise is their overarching descriptor for their values. They pour our promise in all they do as employees and with their customers, communities, and partners. Their company values of One Team, Lifetime Learners, “Reginerative” Spirit and Distill to Win all flow from here.

When designing their distillery and bar in Montpelier, they took every step of the distillation process into consideration, and figured out the most efficient ways to reduce their footprint. The distillery is built on a former industrial site that underwent a thorough environmental remediation. Natural light throughout the distillery is supplemented by highly energy efficient LED lighting, and the building uses high-performance, insulated metal siding, low-flow plumbing and low-impact stormwater treatment processes. The distillery’s rooftop solar array generated 92,554 kilowatt-hours in 2020, enough to cover the electricity needed to craft Barr Hill Gin and Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat Gin. A thermal banking system transfers heat from the water after it runs through the distillery’s condensers to heat a battery of water that can be used for other purposes, including heating an outdoor patio with 100% of the heat coming from the thermal banking system. In the winter, the condensers (located on the roof) are 100% powered by cold Vermont air and need no electricity. The distillery waste is transformed into biofuel and compost: 100% of spent grain is transformed into renewable methane at Vermont Technical College’s biodigester that ultimately generates electricity for the community. Water usage is also minimized in the gin making process. A water recovery system has reduced the distillery’s needs by 83% per case of gin.

“It’s an honor to be a finalist for an award that celebrates what makes Vermont such a special place for entrepreneurial, innovative, and purpose-driven businesses. Ultimately, our incredible team members are the driving force of Barr Hill’s success, so this is well-deserved recognition for them.”  Mary Desautels, VP of Human Resources & Sustainability


Healthy Living Market

Long before it was anywhere near a “market” or a “cafe”, Katy Lesser founded Healthy Living Market and Cafe in 1200 square feet, with a strange mishmash of inventory, one employee, and an average of 6 customers a day. With zero business experience and an absence of anything close to an industry devoted to natural foods, it seemed like a recipe for disaster. And in spite of being told it would never work, Katy set out to “grow up,” learn how to run a business, and be a true pioneer in the soon-to-be growing natural foods industry.

Since 1986, Lesser has turned Healthy Living into a company with 3 vibrant Vermont markets with over 300 employees and sales growing every year. Along with her deep commitment to sourcing healthy food and supporting local agriculture, she has shown equal devotion to creating hundreds of jobs for a diverse segment of the Vermont population. Their mission statement has not changed over the years. “We’re on a mission to fuel a passion for great food, health, and well-being and be the place where people gather to shop, eat, and work.” These core principles have driven community loyalty, growth in sales, and a dedicated staff!

Going hand in hand with creating jobs, giving back to the communities that loyally support them has been part of their mission for over 35 years. From the very start, their Community Outreach Program has reached hundreds of small local non-profits every year and is devoted to helping groups that have small budgets and big hearts. They work with motivated, innovative groups with values similar to their own. They are especially interested in food insecurity and access to food, environmental issues, building a strong community, making health a priority, supporting organic farming, and educating both adults and kids about these things. At their registers they ask customers to round up to the nearest whole dollar amount and donate the difference to a select charity each quarter. Healthy Living matches these donations and in 2021 donated nearly $120k to charities. The staff also participates in a variety of community outreach projects and is paid for time spent. In 2021 Healthy Living donated $150,000 in cash and in kind donations to local organizations such as Feeding Chittenden, Spectrum, Family Services, South Burlington Food Shelf, Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, private and public schools.

While they love and believe in the products they sell, their even bigger commitment is to creating interesting jobs for people. The range of jobs is wide; everything from kitchen work to financial expertise, and helping people learn, grow, and move on in their careers is their greatest joy. Their management team works 7 days a week to create a positive place to work. They employ people who started as cashiers and are now managers, buyers, and supervisors, and because of this, they retain successful staff. Over the past two years, the pandemic has offered them the opportunity to take care of their staff in new, bigger ways. As an essential business, they never closed their doors. That meant they needed to find ways to ensure that staff felt coming to work was not only safe, but a place where support was available. They put new bonus plans in place, offered Hazard Pay, upped the Angel Food program, and above all made safety a priority. As a result, their core team of staff has loyally come to work during this difficult time, and the team is stronger than ever!

In 2021 Healthy Living opened their third store, in Williston Vermont. They created 60 new good jobs. They did this in the middle of covid, in one of the most challenging business environments in the past 25 years, in one of the most competitive industries in America. “Healthy Living has endured recessions, pandemics, and many other ups and downs in our nearly 40 years in business.  For the Deane Davis award team to recognize our longstanding perseverance is affirming and appreciated.  We look forward to the award ceremony later this year, and thank everyone for the opportunity,” said Eli Lesser-Goldsmith CEO.


Hickok and Boardman Insurance Group

In 1821, William A. Griswold and Timothy L. Follett established Griswold & Follett Insurance Agency, the first Vermont division of the Aetna Insurance Company. Their small insurance agency has since endured, prospered, and become what we know today as Hickok & Boardman Insurance Group. Celebrating their bicentennial in 2021, Hickok & Boardman is the leading broker for property and casualty insurance in the state of Vermont for both personal and commercial clients. Hickok & Boardman’s mission and values are the impetus through which the company has been able to operate for two centuries and display excellence in growth, prosperity, and serving its employees and communities.

At the core of its success is Hickok & Boardman’s commitment to the community, giving back through both time and treasure. The list of financial contributions is many, but none greater than the annual United Way Campaign where, with the help of business partners and employees’ dedication to the campaign, the company exceeded their 2021 goal by over 50 percent, raising a total of $310,000! The annual ‘Here When You Need Us’ campaign, developed in 2014, is another example of philanthropic opportunity in which employees engage and dedicate their time to organizations in need of volunteer work. While the company hosts several community service campaigns throughout the year, there are over 25 employees who volunteer their time in public organizations all year long and over half are in leadership positions.

Another common thread woven into the 200-year company fabric is the dedication and commitment of the employees, particularly in living by the company Values Statement: ‘Do the right thing, with a sense of urgency, while exceeding expectations.’ This culture and the top-tier customer service provided by its employees is evidenced in results, having been recognized as one of Vermont’s Best Places to Work from 2018 to 2022. Hickok & Boardman’s work environment is one that encourages frequent and honest feedback from the entire workforce, helping us respond to the ever-changing needs and requirements of our employees and clients. The agency runs several programs that enhance employee well-being and satisfaction, including an award-winning Wellness Program, Tuition Reimbursement and College Debt Repayment plans, and a variety of fun, regularly occurring activities to build relationships among everyone internally.

Hickok & Boardman also understands that environmentalism and the conscientiousness of natural resources is a key factor in supporting communities and improving workplace culture. While the insurance industry generally has a low impact on the environment as a result of the business model, H&B partakes in several energy and resource saving activities. Some initiatives include: having recycling bins at each workstation in the offices, a hybrid work-from-home and remote-work program that helps limit employees’ gas consumption for cars, an updated building exterior, improved temperature controls, and a significant reduction of paper printing in transitioning to virtual services.

Hickok & Boardman has faced many challenges over the course of two centuries. The company celebrates its bicentennial by honoring the history of generations that persevered and led the organization through two world wars, several economic depressions, and the Spanish Flu pandemic that occurred almost exactly 100 years ago. Navigating the second year of Coronavirus pandemic during their bicentennial, H&B celebrated with the communities in Vermont that have been an integral part to their mission and values. Despite the difficulties that the community and the agency have lived through, overcome, and continue to face, they look toward its next century of service, all while remembering the humble beginnings of Griswold and Follet’s start-up insurance agency.

“We are very excited to hear that we are one of the finalists for the Deane C. Davis award in our 200th year of operation.  For all those years, our business has been insurance, but really it’s about building relationships with our clients and our communities.  Our employees take this mission very seriously as demonstrated by how much they care about both, providing superior client service and giving back locally.   Thank you for recognizing our 200 years of service to Vermonters,” said Scott Boardman CEO at Hickok and Boardman Insurance Group.


Deane C Davis:The Man Behind the Award

“The year 2022 marks the 50th Anniversary of Vermontbiz and the 32nd Anniversary of the Deane C Davis Outstanding Business of the Year Award, something we are very proud of here at VermontBiz. The list of past winners is a virtual who’s who of businesses in Vermont. This year, once again we have three great companies as finalist for this prestigious award, all three businesses have shown great merit 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 VermontBiz and co-presenter of the award. “We have so many outstanding businesses in Vermont, but these three finalists reflect much of what we see throughout our state economy,” said Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop

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 Deane C Davis Award Selection Committee

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce and VermontBiz 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 Outstanding Business of the Year Award.

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

Mohamed Basha, CEO & Founder, TLC Nursing

Thomas Leavitt, President & CEO, Northfield Savings Bank

Betsy Bishop, President, Vermont Chamber

John Boutin, Publisher, VermontBiz

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