Vermont Works To Attract New Residents And Multiply The State's Work Force
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Imagine somebody you know calls, tells you they want to move to your town. You might say, well, come visit first. I'll show you the sites, maybe have you meet some of my friends, maybe even BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. This kind of old-fashioned welcome wagon is the premise of a pilot program in Vermont they hope will attract new residents to the state. And as Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports, it's working.
AMANDA O'CONNOR: Hi. I was hoping you were going to be here.
NINA KECK, BYLINE: It's a Friday night, and the back room at Southside Steakhouse in Rutland is quickly filling with people. Amanda O'Connor is chatting with longtime local resident Joe Kraus.
JOE KRAUS: So you know it's a big beautiful country. Why are you here this evening?
O'CONNOR: Vermont's got a lot of that beautiful wrapped up for sure. I guess, for us, coming from Florida, you have an elevation change. We miss mountains...
KECK: O'Connor, a 34-year-old who lives near Tampa, Fla., peppers Kraus with questions about Rutland and what it's like to live in Vermont. Kraus asks O'Connor about the kinds of jobs she and her husband are looking for and recommends people in the community she might reach out to. The room is filled with small bouquets of people all doing the same kind of networking.
HEATHER EMERSON: I'm an early childhood development specialist, so I was a doula for 12 years also.
MARY COHEN: There is somebody that I'd like you to meet and actually she's an acupuncturist, but I believe she had a doula and a home birth herself.
H EMERSON: Awesome.
COHEN: And she is into that...
KECK: This party is part of a pilot program Vermont has launched called Stay to Stay. Rutland is one of five cities taking part. Wendy Knight, Vermont's commissioner of tourism and marketing, says Vermont's been promoting three-day weekends for skiing and romance for years.
WENDY KNIGHT: So we thought it would work to create a three-day package as an exploratory vacation for people who are actually interested in moving to Vermont.
KECK: Getting people to move here is critical because she says census data indicates the number of older Vermonters - those over 65 - has grown four times faster than younger Vermonters aged 20 to 34.
KNIGHT: So that's a problem for us.
KECK: Because critical employers like GE Aviation in Rutland are having a hard time finding new workers. It's pushed the state to get creative. For instance, Vermont's now offering to pay people to move here and work remotely. Knight says publicity generated by that offer has boosted sign-ups for Stay to Stay weekends, which goes something like this - Friday night, there's that meet and greet where participants can talk with locals and potential employers. Saturday and Sunday, visitors could check out housing options or just have fun. In Rutland, that may mean mountain biking or hiking, a trip to the local brewpub or the farmer's market, which is where I run into Christopher and Heather Emerson, a Michigan couple who were at the meet and greet the night before.
So you're out and about exploring Rutland?
H EMERSON: Yes.
CHRISTOPHER EMERSON: Well, we really want to see what it's like to be part of the community. You know, we want to meet people, make connections. I had a chat with the guy over at the pickle stand and, you know, we were just talking about what it's like to be here and just really learn what we - what we're going to be about if we do end up moving this way.
KECK: Vermont is not for everyone, and Rutland has its share of problems, like a sizable opioid epidemic. There are the long winters and a lack of diversity, all of which can be a turnoff. But these long weekends enable participants to ask tough questions. The last day is set aside for job interviews and serious networking.
O'CONNOR: Within, I think, 36 hours, I had five email introductions to various people in the community and business owners for both me and my husband.
KECK: Amanda O'Connor says she and her husband had been considering other New England cities, but she says because of the support from individuals in Rutland, it's not a question of if they're moving there, but when.
O'CONNOR: At first, I didn't quite know what to make of someone that was so willing to be helpful and want to get to know me. I was like, wait, people want to help other people these days? Who does that?
KECK: State officials say of the 28 people who took part in Stay to Stay weekends in June and August, 10 have already moved to Vermont or are in the process.
For NPR News I'm Nina Keck in southern Vermont.
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