$10,000 offer for move to Vermont rubs longtime residents the wrong way

  • The state of Vermont is aiming to attract more people to boost its stagnant population. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

Published: 4/25/2019 9:56:28 PM
Modified: 4/25/2019 9:56:25 PM

BRATTLEBORO — Who could complain about Vermont’s recent offer to relocate to the clean, green state for $10,000?

Plenty of residents already here.

“There’s backlash from some people who called our office and said, ‘I’ve been living under the burden of this high-tax state for decades — how about sending me a check?’ ” Gov. Phil Scott acknowledged. “I want to be clear: Bringing more people to Vermont does help Vermonters already here.”

That’s why Scott, traveling this past week to chamber of commerce events in Brattleboro and Rutland, is dedicating his latest stump speech to detailing the benefits of such population-boosting programs.

Vermont has made news from USA Today to Public Radio International’s The World for its new Remote Worker Grant Program that promises $5,000 annually for up to two years to people willing to transplant themselves to the Green Mountain State. Nearly 50 people so far have taken advantage of an offer that has triggered an avalanche of national attention from the public and the media.

“We’ve had over 3,000 inquiries and over a million impressions on social media,” Scott told more than 100 business leaders at a Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “But I do hear some pushback from people saying, ‘It’s great that you’re trying to get people to move here, but what about me?’ ”

The governor’s office and state legislators say they’re receiving such comments through personal conversations, phone calls and social media posts.

“It’s pretty bad when Vermont has to pay people to move here — it’s OUR tax dollars they are spending instead of fixing our roads,” one Facebook user began a recent thread on the topic.

“Once they get here they will realize the same politicians that invited them want to steal all their $,” a second continued.

“Reducing theft (taxation) and onerous, needless regulation would do far more,” a third concluded.

Scott counters that such programs help everyone hurt by Vermont’s stagnant population, whose current estimate of 626,299 is just 3,866 more than the census figure a decade ago. Although the population is spiking in Chittenden County, it’s shrinking in the southernmost counties of Bennington, Rutland, Windham and Windsor and in the Northeast Kingdom counties of Caledonia, Essex and Orleans.

“We’re one of the oldest states in the country,” Scott said, referring to Vermont’s median age of 42.9, which is five years higher than the national number. “For the first time ever, we’re experiencing more deaths than births.”

In comparison, neighboring New Hampshire just made news for adding people from other places, according to the latest census estimates.

Vermont’s flat figure has led to a lower state bond rating and, in turn, higher interest costs. For its part, a 15,000-worker drop in the labor force over the past decade is leaving employers in the lurch.

“In every corner of our state, we’re finding businesses large and small ready to grow, but good jobs go unfilled because we simply don’t have enough people,” Scott said in Brattleboro.

Vermont’s public schools, meanwhile, report 30,000 fewer students in grades K-12 from two decades ago — a drop that’s also hitting colleges that pull about 90% of their enrollment from in-state students.

“It also means fewer customers at our businesses, fewer ratepayers for utilities, fewer available for our volunteer fire departments,” Scott said of the population plight.

In response, the governor is playing up the state’s high rankings in national health and safety surveys to newcomers while pointing out the need for relocation programs to often skeptical natives. After his speech in Brattleboro, for example, he was greeted by a young woman who identified herself as “a born-and-raised citizen.”

“I know so many of my classmates that have left the state,” she said. “It’s great that we have incentives to bring people from the outside, but as a young Vermonter, what incentives are you going to do for us to stay here?”

Scott acknowledged the challenge.

“We have to keep cultivating different opportunities at the same time we’re trying to bring more people in,” he said. “We have work to do in all areas of the state. I can go to Bennington and they feel forgotten. I can go to Rutland and they feel forgotten. I can go to Springfield and they feel forgotten. I can go to the Northeast Kingdom and they certainly feel forgotten — and sometimes they’d just as soon keep it that way.”

The governor is promoting a revised New Worker Relocation Incentive Program that proposes grants of between $5,000 and $7,500, giving priority to such sectors as health care, early education, restaurants and lodging, manufacturing, technology and construction trades. It’s part of the economic development bill, SB 162, passed this month by the Senate and under consideration by the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

“We need to do more to reach potential Vermonters and encourage them to move to our state,” Scott said. “Every new worker we add allows a business, a community and a school to grow. It also brings in more tax revenue. If we want to fund more early education, better roads and bridges, more drug prevention and treatment — we need more taxpayers, not more taxes.”

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