Name: Maricela Ehmann
Current Town: Killington, VT
Years in VT: 3.5
Industry: Weddings & Events
Business name: Ehmann Events
Business website: www.ehmannevents.com
Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT.
I am a first-generation California Mexicana – born and raised in the SF Bay Area. I graduated with honors from Woodside High School and attended SF State University, majoring in Kinesiology. Our family business kept pulling me back into the restaurant industry (with little resistance since I loved it so much) until I received an offer to work at McCalls Catering & Events in San Francisco. I took the position of Executive Assistant to the President and Executive Chef of the company. There I honed my skills in the industry while behind the scenes of large scale social, political and corporate events. I served as Secretary of the Safety Committee, developed an Injury and Illness Prevention Program, was the administrator of the Corporate Consulting division and advocated for employees within my HR supportive role. From there I moved on to work as Catering Coordinator at the Crown Plaza Hotel SFO, followed by an Event Specialist position at Continental Caterers in Palo Alto where I specialized in Kosher events and planned and executed 80+ events in one year.
What do you enjoy about being a business owner in VT?
Upon arriving in VT, what stood out was the quantity of competitive businesses in my industry. There are many great creatives in our industry but certainly not close the numbers you see in the SF Bay Area – basically there is room here for me and our process. Additionally, Vermont is a great foundation for any person looking to start business in the creative industries. There is inspiration everywhere, in every season.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a business owner since living in VT?
My experience and qualifications didn’t really matter since I had no connections in the Vermont events industry. Although I joined an existing business organization, it was not really supportive of a startup business. It was not until I created my own connections and proved our level of expertise that we began to get some notice. I did the majority of the work on my own – it was not very obvious to me of any local business resources or development assistance. I also didn’t find many marketing opportunities that were tailored to start ups. Most had a significant cost that was not in a small business budget.
Another challenge specific to us was getting other vendors to be open to new ways of executing events (more of a full production approach versus your typical wedding structure). Moving beyond your comfort level is difficult for some!
How have you worked to overcome the challenges?
Is “showing them what I got” an appropriate response? I grew up in a household of very strong, determined and hardworking people who influenced me deeply. My parents worked really hard to support our education – putting five children through school, who then went on to achieved successful careers. It took me some time to find my voice and place in my industry but with hard work and determination, no goal is out of reach. Our projections prior to the pandemic had us quadrupling revenue in 2 years so I am determined to getting back on that trajectory. As we grow, I will be able to hire other talent to join our team.
What opportunities do you see for your industry in the future?
The wedding and event industry is made up of a variety of small businesses who are supported by many other industries. We have the opportunity to change the narrative, diversify our workforce and increase our visibility by defining ourselves as an economic powerhouse in Vermont. This can only be accomplished by clear and collective plan for recovery post-pandemic which includes diversifying our white-white industry and incorporating into state tourism marketing.
I am in the beginning stages of developing a mentoring and internship program to get more young people interested in the wedding and event industry here in VT. The goal is to foster supportive connections where new professionals can thrive.
In what ways could your community or the state of VT support BIPOC businesses?
Technically support needs to be clear and accessible for sole proprietors, small to medium sized businesses and start up business. Our BIPOC business owners have the potential to not only thrive in the state but also to create many new job opportunities and contribute to the local economy. This is especially important in creative industries because not all individuals with great ideas and talent have the experience in HR, finance, marketing or business legality to get them going on a stable foundation.
What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a VT entrepreneurs/business owner before arriving?
A “cheat” sheet of tax filling, registration and other business startup requirements would have been great. It took some research, phone calls and a few hiccups to get everything right once we decided to move forward.
Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC community?
I am the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization that advocates for growth, diversity and inclusion in the wedding and event industry. Wedding and Event Vendor Alliance will work to hold ourselves and our members accountable to change and anti-racism by requiring commitments to ongoing self-education. Additionally, I am in the process of creating an action plan specifically curated to provide opportunities for development, marketing, networking and professional mentoring for underrepresented vendor communities. We are based in Vermont but are not limiting our member engagement to just the State.
Visit our site wevavt.org or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. We are extending free membership access for VTPOC through the end of February.