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Vermont manufacturers report a busy holiday season

Christmas, New Year, winter holidays concept and celebration mood. Festive decorated gift boxes on dark background
Vadym Petrochenko/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Local manufacturers make products that become gifts all around the world.

Around the world, people use products from Vermont manufacturers to create holiday memories. A toy made in the Green Mountains may find itself nestled in wrapping paper halfway across the globe. A family time zones away might use cookie cutters created in Vermont to bond over a batch of cookies.

Sometimes the most popular products for the season surprise even company leaders.

"We did a 'fashion doll head' and we're selling a ton of those, which is fun," said Ben Clark, the CEO of Ann Clark Cookie Cutters in Rutland. They had to market the shape in such a way as to not violate the Barbie movie trademark.

Ann Clark is the largest manufacturer of cookie cutters in the United States — they make five million cookie cutters every year. During a holiday-themed conversation on Vermont Edition about local manufacturing, Clark said hiring trustworthy, talented employees is the key to their success.

"We've worked really hard to have an ergonomic, safe, clean environment," Clark said. "We try to pay well, we offer benefits, but bottom line, be honest and nice to your employees, and that makes a huge difference."

The state's workforce shortage has created hiring challenges for many local manufacturers, especially in the years since the height of the pandemic. Some, like the wood toy company Maple Landmark in Middlebury, reworked their factory processes so that they wouldn't need to fill as many positions.

He said hiring has stabilized, and they've made some equipment changes which have increased their productivity. But even with all the updates, he said, a high level of craftsmanship is still necessary.

"These machines don't punch out a finished product," Rainville said. "They just help you help you along the way to move the product along a little more efficiently, a little more precisely."

Maple Landmark designs and builds wooden toys like puzzles and name trains. Rainville first started selling products wholesale when he was a still teenager in the '70s.

While other companies have reported supply chain issues, Rainville and Clark said that hasn't been an issue for their companies.

"We're pretty fortunate that we use wood, and there's a lot of wood in Vermont," Rainville said. "Seventy-five percent of what we use is hard maple and it comes from local mills right in the region." He said a lot of their other components also come from the U.S.

Clark agreed, saying that steel, their biggest material, is purchased from a U.S. steel facility. When the market for steel got tight at one point, "it just forced us to buy more steel at a time, and that's gotten us through it, " Clark said. Most of their other raw materials and packaging are purchased locally.

As for the product Mike Rainville is most excited about this holiday season? For him, it's all about the trains.

"We've taken trains to a new level — we have mountain spirals and things like that," he said. "Things that make more fun for kids."

Broadcast at noon Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.