Hundreds gather for 25th Women’s Economic Development Conference
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Energy, Enthusiasm & the Entrepreneurial Spirit

It was a perfect autumn day in Vermont on Oct. 1 when more than 300 guests gathered at Vermont Technical College’s Randolph Center campus for the 25th annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference (WEOC). Founded and hosted by Senator Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle, the conference has a rich history of bringing people together to network, to share expertise, and to hear about compelling issues on the economic forefront.

Returning as an in-person event, this year’s WEOC had particular significance as a milestone anniversary and Senator Leahy’s last conference before his retirement from public service. Following opening remarks delivered by Parwinder Grewal, President of Vermont Technical College, the audience was treated to a series of memorable moments including a heartwarming introduction by Congressman Peter Welch, welcoming words from Senator Leahy, and an inspiring keynote address from Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen. Senator Leahy expressed recognition for the hard work of the conference organizing committee including long-term members Brenda Plastridge and Lori Valburn, co-chairs Pollaidh Major and Lisa Brighenti from Senator Leahy’s office, and Heather M. Gonyaw, Associate State Director of Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC). 

“The conference would not have been possible without the organizing committee members who brought their vision, energy, and connections to this event; the experts who donated their time to run workshops and take part in panel discussions; and, most of all, the women of Vermont who came to the conference and shared their experiences and expertise with their fellow Vermonters,” said Senator Leahy in a press release.

Conference attendees had the opportunity to visit sponsor display tables around the venue representing many of Vermont’s service and community organizations including VtSBDC. Visitors enjoyed meeting each other in person (some for the very first time), and the buzz was palpable as attendees made valuable connections throughout the day. Attendees selected from a variety of workshops led by experts on career advancement, skill development, non-traditional careers for women, financial planning, and much more.

In addition to VtSBDC’s Associate State Director Heather Gonyaw’s involvement in helping to organize the event for more than two decades, VtSBDC business advisor Laurel Butler facilitated the Thinking of Starting Your Own Business? workshop, and business advisor Heidi Krantz led a workshop on Are You Ready for a Show? VtSBDC staff who provided support throughout the day included: Linda Rossi, State Director; Sarah Kearns, business advisor; Sara Munro, program coordinator of the Community Navigator Pilot Program; Phyllis Ershowsky, marketing and communications specialist; and Elke Billig, administrative assistant,.

“Our VtSBDC team has always appreciated the opportunity to participate in the WEOC,” said Rossi. “Senator Leahy’s vision has offered a forum for many of us to come together year after year to share our experiences, and to collaborate to improve the economic outlook for our fellow Vermonters.”

VtSBDC Associate State Director Heather M. Gonyaw with Senator Patrick Leahy and Marcelle Leahy
Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen with VtSBDC Business Advisor Laurel Butler

VtSBDC Associate State Director Heather M. Gonyaw with Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen
VtSBDC Business Advisor Heidi Krantz leads a workshop on “Are You Ready for the Show?”
VtSBDC Business Advisor Sarah Kearns, VtSBDC consultant Tamie-Jo Dickinson, and VtSBDC Business Advisor Laurel Butler networking at the WEOC

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