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Susan Alexander Commentary: Working Lands Grants lead to partnerships and growth

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2014-11-26

This commentary, by Susan Alexander, the founder of The Vermont Switchel Company in Cabot, was published on VtDigger.org: http://vtdigger.org/2014/11/26/susan-alexander-working-lands-grants-lead...

Over the past two years The Vermont Switchel Company has gone from a home-based kitchen project to an award-winning and fast-growing enterprise. By far, the best part of this business venture has been the people who, directly or indirectly, have had a hand in supporting our growth and development. From the friends and family who have filled bottles by hand in the early days to the grant we received from the Working Lands Enterprise Fund that means we no longer have to fill bottles by hand!

Vermont Switchel Company was one of the recipients of the first round of Working Lands Enterprise grants, and that grant has made a big difference for our company. We applied for the grant so that we could buy a modern bottler and “capper” – a piece of equipment that fills bottles and securely caps them and adheres to regulations. Little did we know that our $15,000 grant would leverage other funds and lead to a bigger investment that has helped several other businesses as well. After being awarded our grant and discovering that craft brewers had bought up all of the available affordable equipment, we partnered with the Vermont Food Venture Center to finance the purchase. This modernized equipment has allowed other businesses to benefit from the “4-spout bottler” so that their enterprises can grow also.

Our partnership with the Venture Center also includes workers. Rather than hiring our own employees, we are able to pay the Venture Center to manage our production and the workers, which allows us to focus on growing our business. We now contract with a distributor to market our products throughout New England. Switchel is being sold in hundreds of stores and is now found in five states! We also just launched an online sales platform.

In two years, we have gone from a product nobody knew about to a stable business that is poised to take advantage of a growing marketplace. A big part of that opportunity was a direct result of our Working Lands grant, which allowed us to reduce the cost of production and make our product available and affordable to the average consumer.

I am proud of the success of Vermont Switchel and I know that we could not have done it alone. Our Venture Center partnership, the other businesses that I have been connected to, and even some key customers have all been at least in part a result of our Working Lands Enterprise grant. Further, a major component of our Switchel is Vermont maple syrup – and that can’t be outsourced. Our business is helping to support an important part of our working landscape, and we will continue to do that as we grow. The Working Lands Enterprise initiative is an important investment in Vermont, and the grants have a domino effect throughout our state. I sincerely hope the Working Lands Enterprise Fund will continue to be funded at $1.5 million for the next year, so other Vermont businesses can prosper in the same way that Vermont Switchel has.