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Vermont Eyes Plan to Boost Its Population

  • This Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, photo shows a road sign welcoming drivers to Vermont in Wells River, Vt., on the New Hampshire border. Vermont officials are hoping a new program that would use cutting-edge, targeted marketing and a host of incentives, both economic and emotional, can attract new people to live in the Green Mountain State, helping to alleviate what is fast becoming a chronic labor shortage caused by a stagnant, aging population. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)



Associated Press
Sunday, January 28, 2018

Montpelier — Vermont officials are hoping a new program that would use cutting-edge, targeted marketing and a host of incentives, both economic and emotional, can attract new people to live in the Green Mountain State, helping to alleviate what is fast becoming a chronic labor shortage caused by a stagnant, aging population.

While similar efforts are underway in a number of states, the push to bring new people to Vermont is part of a broader economic program that would also help train people to fill hundreds of well-paying jobs and encourage people who have left the workforce to go back to work.

The targeted efforts would focus on tourists who have shown an interest in the state, encouraging out-of-state college students to stay after graduation, getting people who have left to return or finding people who are attracted by Vermont’s wholesome image.

“We have this interesting confluence of events, where we have the workforce challenge coupled with a state that has unparalleled livability — safety, education and opportunity — and a message that has not been well told,” said Michael Schirling, of the Agency of Commerce and Community Affairs, who is behind the effort, dubbed the Think Vermont Move initiative.

A portion of the campaign is based on a similar program in South Dakota, which faces some of the same demographic challenges as Vermont. Over the last dozen years, Dakota Roots has managed to attract about one new resident a day, said Marcia Hultman, of the state’s labor and regulation department.

Surveys results find people who move to South Dakota tend to be in their mid-30s and want a smaller, safer place to raise families.

“From the workforce perspective, they are experienced, but they have a lot of years left in the workforce as well,” she said.

South Dakota officials also focus on people who have connections to the state, such as natives who left or those who have visited or have family there, said Hultman. Dakota Roots offers no direct economic incentives, but state officials will work directly with people from out of state who are looking for a job.

Lorraine Windenburg, 56, from Rapid City, S.D., was one of the first success stories of Dakota Roots. She grew up in the state, but left at 19 and was living in Phoenix when, during a visit for a family wedding, a relative told her of the program.

“It’s a calmer pace,” said Windenburg, whose children were grown by the time she and her husband headed north in 2008. “There’s a lot of natives who still live here and believe in South Dakota ideals.”

A similar, privately run initiative in Maine, where state officials are also worried that a lack of workers could stymie economic growth, is drawing people to the state.

Nic Gallant, 28, a Maine native who just returned after working and living in San Francisco and Chicago, said the Live and Work in Maine program combines the state’s natural beauty and slower pace with employment opportunities.

“We didn’t have the lifestyle that we truly wanted,” said Gallant, who now lives in the coastal town of Harpswell, less than an hour from downtown Portland.

Back in Vermont, the need to attract newcomers and find people to fill hundreds of vacant jobs is becoming an ever-more urgent priority. Since he took office last year, Republican Gov. Phil Scott has repeatedly warned about what he calls his “6, 3, 1”: Every day there are six fewer workers in the state, three fewer schoolchildren and one child born addicted to opiates. The opiate challenge is being addressed elsewhere.

Vermont’s goal is about 2,200 new workers a year. The nearly $3.2 million the administration is requesting for the program would pay for technology to identify people who would be most likely to move to Vermont and marketing.

Schirling said that if Vermont could reach South Dakota’s success of one new person a day in the first year to 18 months, he would consider the efforts to be a preliminary success, although he’d like more.

“It’s going to be eight, 10, 12 different things that yield a few hundred (people) each that will get the ball rolling,” he said. “Success begets success.”