Interview: Stowe, VT’s Alchemist Brewery

CLASP recently spoke with Jen Kimmich, co-owner of The Alchemist brewery in Stowe, Vermont, about her support for public policies to improve job quality. Kimmich was a crucial business voice fueling the passage of her state’s recent paid sick days law.

CLASP: As part of The Alchemist’s involvement with the progressive business group Main Street Alliance, you’ve spoken out in favor of Vermont’s new paid sick days law. When and why did you start engaging with public policy?

Kimmich: I became involved in public policy three years ago. My friend who works in public policy was frustrated; she couldn’t understand why business owners [who supported the bill] weren’t going to the State House to give testimony in support of paid sick days.  The legislation wasn’t really gaining any traction. So that next week I went to the State House, and I gave testimony in support of paid sick days. I talked about our [paid sick days] policy and how it helped our business financially. I explained that it was not only the right decision to make for our employees, but also a good business decision.  It helps us retain our employees, we gain loyalty from our employees, staff don’t get sick as often – there are so many ways it affects the bottom line.

It ended up being very emotional! And I got an ovation! It just felt so good. I had never realized how powerful our voice was as business owners. Once I realized that, I recognized that we had a responsibility to stand up for what we believe in.

CLASP: What advice do you have for businesses that haven’t yet taken a stand for job quality public policy but might be interested in getting involved?

Kimmich: Without strong business leaders coming to the table to work on legislation and stand up for workers’ rights, I don’t think real progress can be made. It’s our responsibility to say, “This is the right thing to do for human beings, but it’s also a good financial business decision.” That’s important because [legislators] are always afraid to pass any legislation that might cost businesses more money, and from the outside, it seems as though giving employees paid sick time, parental leave, or health insurance would be an expense. But in reality, it always makes your business stronger. So I think it’s important for businesses to come out and get that message across to lawmakers.

CLASP: Have you gotten any feedback from your customers about your endorsement of these policies? Do you think that your work on paid sick days and other issues is a selling point for any of your customers?

Kimmich: Absolutely! The other day I was in our tasting room, and a man came in and said, “I’ve read some of your commentaries on earned sick time and family leave, and hats off to you!” He said he ran a construction business for 30 years and always gave his employees paid sick time, and it definitely helped his business. I hear this all the time.

I think our customers really appreciate that we’re a socially responsible business. They know we’re good employers. That goes a long way. It’s just another way that it helps the bottom line – you do get more loyal customers as well.