By Patricia Minichiello

Between registrations and walk-ins at least 150 people gathered Saturday at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland for a daylong summit organized by the Rutland Young Professionals.

Beginning at 10 a.m. with a talk by U.S. Congressman Peter Welch, D-Vt., and lasting until after 5 p.m., the event tackled topics from the state’s economic past to charting a path of professional excellence in Vermont.

Brad Cohen of Mozilla, gave a keynote address, and spoke about three fundamentals of making headway in the workplace: trust, trial and agility.

It’s important to say yes to ideas, he said, even the bad ones. But, he pointed out, “fail fast and fail hard.”

“Be willing to do new things and try new ways of working and use a program you’ve never used before,” he said.

Cohen gave an overview of his path to Mozilla, which wasn’t a straight line. He said that despite going to Middlebury College and getting a Master’s degree in Communications from Cornell, he took odd jobs, before moving out to Portland, Oregon, to be apart of the tech startup.

Gwen Pokalo, director of the Vermont Women’s Business Center, spoke about the gig economy, during one of the breakout sessions.

She said it’s important to find greater meaning in your work, particularly when you are in business for yourself and faced with obstacles like low-paying freelance opportunities or working without benefits.

“How do you find your unique position within the marketplace, realize your potential and let other people see how unique your services are?”

She gave examples of groups, websites and apps that are helpful to workers in the gig economy or freelance marketplace.

The day ended with a panel discussion moderated by Garrett M. Graff including Republican candidate for governor Phil Scott, Mayor Chris Louras and Vermont State Rep. Kesha Ram.

Graff said that Democratic candidate for governor Sue Minter couldn’t be there because she was attending a funeral for one of Harwood Union High School students.

The panel discussed issues ranging from growth in the state including refugee resettlement to affordable housing.

Ram said that 90 percent of the state’s growth in the recent past has been people of color.

“That’s largely due to refugee resettlement. … As our population ages we have to think about what it looks like to be welcoming to all kinds of folks.”

When Louras spoke, he said refugee resettlement was absolutely the right thing to do. He also made an comment directed to the young professionals in the audience.

“I want one of the people in this room to replace me,” the mayor said.

Scott spoke about affordable housing and taxes, saying that that operating costs of owning a home are largely property taxes. The state needs to get property taxes under control, he said.

“It’s not just obtaining the home, it’s how do you keep it.”

The day wrapped with an evening mixer at Strangefellows Pub.

Tyler Richardson, secretary of the Rutland Young Professionals, said he enjoyed the networking opportunities the day afforded.

“I was able to connect with so many young, talented, and forward-thinking individuals. So the networking was my favorite part of the event, connecting face-to-face with my peers and the people I’ll be working alongside of for decades to come.”

Patricia Minichiello is a freelance reporter and editor of You can reach her at