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Vermont officials report sustained interest in the state’s new program to pay remote workers to make a move.
Vermont last year announced a unique strategy for drawing people to their tiny, picturesque state: they’d pay you to move there and work remotely.
Originally, state officials said they’d select 100 people to receive as much as $10,000 in the first year of the Remote Worker Grant Program, and then 20 people in the following years. Each new resident would submit moving expenses, membership fees for coworking spaces, broadband costs, or security deposits for reimbursement up to $5,000 per year for two years.
But then they found that way more people than they anticipated were attracted to the idea of moving to the rural New England state with a declining population. After receiving thousands of inquiries, the state decided to ramp up the program. “We just got a tremendous amount of press, we rode that wave to where we are now,” said Joan Goldstein, the commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Economic Development, which is implementing the program.
Goldstein’s office had planned to dole out $125,000 in incentives from January to June of 2019, but spent all their money by April. The legislature made more funds available in July, and the state has $375,000 left. They eliminated the annual cycles—now, people can apply until the money is gone. Since the beginning of the year, 170 people, including workers and their families, have already made a permanent trek to the land of maple syrup, covered bridges, and ski resorts.
“It’s a great outcome,” said Goldstein. “People are moving from metropolitan areas all over the country, and moving into rural areas and small towns, just spreading out throughout the state.”
The new residents come from a variety of other states, but Goldstein said the occupations are more concentrated. There are a lot of software developers, digital designers, and financial professionals, but there are a few less traditional roles thrown in as well—a book editor and an architect, for example. Almost everyone who applies is accepted, provided they’re an employee of any company (as contractors or freelancers are not eligible), have eligible expenses, and can prove they've relocated to the state.
Though they may be the only ones with incentives, participants in the grant program are by no means the only people moving to the state. United Van Lines found that Vermont came in first in 2018 when the company compared moves into states versus the the exodus out of states, with the greatest percentage of new Vermonters citing work as the reason for their arrival. Most people who have moved to Vermont in the past two decades have been from nearby states like New York and New Hampshire.
Goldstein said that due to the state’s small population and workforce, though, her office is always looking for fresh ideas to draw in new residents. In 2018, her department had wanted to up their out-of-state marketing budget, but the Vermont legislature instead created the remote worker program.
“We didn’t know what to make of it, but we gave it a shot,” she laughed.
The concept is gaining traction across the country. Tulsa, Oklahoma, announced an offer to pay people $10,000 to move there—and if they work remotely, they get a year membership to a co-working space, three months of discounted rent in a furnished apartment, and community building support with other new residents. A foundation in Hamilton, Ohio is trying to attract recent graduates from STEAM programs by offering to pay off their student loan debt, at a rate of $300 per month, up to $10,000.
Incentive programs are nothing new, but have often been focused on potential homeowners. Lincoln, Kansas, and Marne, Iowa, for example, give out free land plots to people who will build (and then reside in) houses on them. Baltimore offers $10,000 for a down payment to people who move to the city and buy previously vacant properties.
Now, Goldstein said the state is working on a new incentive program approved by the legislature this year focused on recruiting employees for businesses in the state, instead of remote workers. Her department has over $1 million to start allocating in January of 2020 to people who accept new positions in Vermont. The new program provides $5,000 for one year (or $7,500 if moving to a rural area of the state) to qualifying applicants on an approved occupational list, whose new jobs pay them at or above 160% of the minimum wage.
“We’re working with businesses now to spread the word about this, so they can use it to attract new employees,” she said. “The remote worker grant really helped people, so we’re happy to see incentives like this expand.”
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.
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