- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Vermont’s $10,000 Gamble

The small state of Vermont usually makes the national news for producing progressive politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders and legalizing same-sex marriage.

But recently Vermont made the news for a different reason. Republican Governor Phil Scott (yes there are still Republicans in New England) signed a bill into law that will grant remote workers up to $10,000 to move to the state. According to the New York Times [1], the program will run for three years, with allocations of $125,000 for 2019 and 2021, and $250,000 in 2020.

Vermont is a very rural state and outside of the Interstate 89 corridor between Burlington and the capital, Montpelier, even what isn’t rural is still post-industrial. Towns like Springfield, Newport, and Rutland aren’t strictly mill towns or gateway cities like the kind found in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but there are similarities. Like other rural and post-industrial areas, young people are leaving, and while there are some people moving in, they are frequently middle-aged or retired.

And even where there are signs of life, there aren’t exactly many jobs available. Making artisanal cheese or opening a nanobrewery don’t require a large labor force.

By offering to compensate people for their moving expenses, the state hopes to attract people who are already employed and enjoy the Green Mountain landscape. They hope that the beauty and outdoor lifestyle will beckon the create class, so they won’t have to go through the expense and hassle of trying to lure a factory or some other industry.

The beauty of Vermont has certainly been attractive in the past. The influence of the Rockefeller and Billings families [2], for example, helped preserve Woodstock as a quintessential New England village, allowing them a brisk tourist trade, even if locals can no longer afford to live in town. The “sweeping mountain vistas reminiscent of their beloved Austria [3]” brought the Von Trapp family to Stowe. Local legend has it that Thomas Watson, Jr. of IBM liked the skiing so much he had a facility located in Essex Junction, near Burlington, so as to shoehorn in some skiing around actual work.

Unfortunately, Vermont is not alone in offering deals for warm bodies. Buffalo, N.Y. will sell people houses for $1 [4] if they agree to stay for at least five years. Numerous small towns throughout Italy [5], many of them just as picturesque as Vermont, if not more so, offer free homes and even castelli or other deals in order to get them occupied, maintained, and economically vibrant again.

Even if Vermont’s relocation program can outcompete the others and attract remote workers, the state’s leaders will still have to come up with ways to be more attractive for its own high school and college graduates.

change_me

If the state is willing to spend $500,000 over three years as part of a reimbursement program, perhaps they could offer a similar amount to promote entrepreneurship, reimbursing young people up to $10,000 to start a business.

One important thing the state could do is overhaul its approach to transportation. Currently, public transit is an afterthought because in the conventional thinking the state is too sparsely populated to make it work.

As a result, Vermont must balance the construction of ugly roads and parking lots against the preservation of the natural beauty that attracts the tourists. It would do no good to pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

Transportation in Vermont consists of two Amtrak services, the Ethan Allen Express and the Vermonter trains, and an intercity bus service known as Vermont Translines. Extending the New York City-based Ethan Allen Express from Rutland up to Burlington would not only make Burlington and the college town of Middlebury accessible by rail, it would likely make the service that much more financially viable. Further improvements would come from rerouting it so it could stop at Bennington and Manchester.

Another improvement Vermont could make is getting some kind of rail connection to Boston. This could be best be done with a route paralleling Vermont’s State Route 103 to Rutland and then sharing the track with the Ethan Allen Express to Burlington. This would bring tourists to Ludlow and Killington, connect entrepreneurs in Burlington and Boston, and make it much easier for me to visit my family in Rutland.

While plans have been floated for building a commuter rail network [6] using diesel multiple units, the state could also get more bang for the bucks it spends on bus service. The bus network has three routes in the southwest of the state, and is expensive, slow, and only runs once a day. Considering the way younger people drive less and are buying fewer cars, making it easier to live in the state without a car would help attract them.

There are many steps Vermont can and should take to ensure that its $10,000 gamble doesn’t turn out to be a gimmick.

Matthew M. Robare is a freelance journalist based in Boston.

Follow @MattRobare [7] Follow @NewUrbs [8]

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Vermont’s $10,000 Gamble"

#1 Comment By cka2nd On June 28, 2018 @ 11:03 pm

Nice to see TAC continue its long record of support for mass transit. Good ideas, but I’m not even sure a Democratic President and Congress would support expanding Amtrak, anywhere, and mainstream Republicans and lunatic libertarians would just as soon kill the entire system.

#2 Comment By Roger H. On June 29, 2018 @ 8:43 am

“Another improvement Vermont could make is getting some kind of rail connection to Boston.”

When I first visited the area as a prospective student, I was impressed at the bus network that went through New England from Boston Logan Airport. In the case that you talk about, it seems to me that some benefit could be achieved by extending the Dartmouth Coach service beyond Hanover, NH and into Vt. My family and I found these bus lines to be a very attractive way to travel in the region.

#3 Comment By Marie On June 29, 2018 @ 9:11 am

Even though I didn’t vote for him, I really like our governor. However, it annoys me to no end that my tax money is going to be blown on such a silly idea. A note to all you possible future residents: it gets incredibly cold here in the winter and the snow seems to last forever. There’s a reason for the quip that Vermont has nine months of winter and three months of darn poor sledding. Keep that in mind. Oh, and if you’re a city resident used to driving as a offense/defense thing, be aware that speed limits are strictly enforced, even the 25mph ones, and crazy drivers are not tolerated.

I agree with your suggestion to plow the money into helping the residents we already have in order to start businesses, but that would require a bit of common sense. State legislatures aren’t always gifted in that way.

#4 Comment By Johann On June 29, 2018 @ 10:19 am

What’s with always wanting more people. And most of those who want more people are so-called environmentalists too.

Having more people will increase total GDP, but its GDP/person that matters when it comes to living standards.

There is more to the quality of life than a constant red hot economy. And red hot economies are not sustainable, environmentally or otherwise.

#5 Comment By mrscracker On June 29, 2018 @ 11:55 am

” Considering the way younger people drive less and are buying fewer cars, making it easier to live in the state without a car would help attract them.”
*************

In urban settings, sure. But I imagine that would be hard to do if you’re “Making artisanal cheese or opening a nanobrewery ” in a rural area.

I don’t know much about beer breweries but I’ve visited a couple locally & they rely on a constant flow of trucks making deliveries & pickups.

If you’re making “artisanal” cheese on your own farm, you’ll also need a truck to buy any feed, supplements, medications, & supplies not produced on the farm or delivered by suppliers.

Plus, unless you only sell directly to customers on the farm, you’ll need to be able to get your product to market. Even if you have a cheese shop on site, customers will need to be able to get there & only so many will want to do that by bus.

Having a decent road system is important. Turning that into super highways, flyovers, etc. is a whole different matter.

Sparsely populated areas really don’t make sense for mass transit. Even in the UK where population centers are much closer together,they’re having financial issues trying to keep the buses running in rural areas.

#6 Comment By The Scientist 889 On June 29, 2018 @ 12:17 pm

“Even if Vermont’s relocation program can outcompete the others and attract remote workers, the state’s leaders will still have to come up with ways to be more attractive for its own high school and college graduates.”

As a life long Boston resident and young person, there is zero chance of them keeping large numbers of their college graduates. College costs $30k a year or more typically for the private schools. The kids in NE with the best grades do not go to the public schools around here, they go to the branded private schools. There is no money to be made in a rural state to service the debt that one takes on to get an education like that, even if that debt is just $30k total. Vermont isn’t close to Boston at all. I drove up there for the first time recently and it was a 2 hour drive. Good luck getting young people to sign on for that when there are other options far closer. 4 hours of commute time is soul crushing and Boston is super safe now, unlike when I was a kid. The schools within the route 128 belt are MUCH better than Vermont schools as well so that isn’t a draw either. This depopulation will continue regardless of what the state decides to do.

#7 Comment By Conewago On June 29, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

“The influence of the Rockefeller and Billings families, for example, helped preserve Woodstock as a quintessential New England village, allowing them a brisk tourist trade, even if locals can no longer afford to live in town.”

If locals can no longer afford to live there, then it is not a quintessential New England village! It is a delusion to consider otherwise.

#8 Comment By Peter K On June 29, 2018 @ 1:24 pm

$500,000 over three years with a maximum individual grant of $10,000 might attract 50 – 100 workers.

It seems more symbolic than serious.

#9 Comment By FL Transplant On June 29, 2018 @ 4:41 pm

A number of cities have programs where they’ll sell you an abandoned building for $1. And, while those buildings are indeed marvelous once they’re renovated, the costs cited in the article on Buffalo are probably on the mid-to-low end of the spectrum of what’s required.

My wife enjoys a show on the DIY network where a lady renovates abandoned homes in Detroit, “Rehab Addict”. Unless you’re willing to go through what she shows needing to be done buying a dollar house is a big, big mistake.

#10 Comment By JWJ On June 29, 2018 @ 5:04 pm

First, at $500K over 3 years, this is going to attract 50 people?? Sounds more like a PR move, which is fine.

Now, some historical numbers and comparisons, cause without context …..

Since 1950, the US population has doubled, so 100% increase.
Vermont since 1950, has gone up 65%, from 375K to 625K.

For comparison, another state that is very cold, New Hampshire’s population has gone up by 140% since 1950. More than DOUBLE the rate of neighboring Vermont. From 533K to 1.3M.

Is that good or bad, depends on your perspective.

Another piece of information. Vermont is the 48th highest state in taking money from their citizens. New Hampshire is 4th or 5th lowest. Is that relevant?

Are very high taxes a deterrent for folks to move to Vermont? Or maybe Vermont can convince folks in New Jersey (high tax state) or New York (high tax state) that yes, Vermont has some of the highest taxes in the US, but the Vermont government workers spends that money so well that Vermont is much better place to live than those other high tax states.

#11 Comment By Robert Gardner On June 29, 2018 @ 5:34 pm

Here in central Vermont there is a saying that “you have to earn living in Vermont” meaning taxes are high, jobs are few, and there is a long winter. On the other hand, it is one of the most beautiful places to live in the country if you like rural small town living and/or winter sports. And the summers truly are fabulous. And these things, particularly genuine rural small town living (America like it used to be) can really make it worth the trouble, which is why so many people retire here.

But I agree that the money would be much better spent keeping young people here (a tax break, help with a house purchase, whatever) than bringing in people from the outside with the hope they won’t notice the winter.

As for the transportation issues, it is an archipelago of villages strung up and down the river valleys. Maybe you have a restaurant in your town, maybe not. Maybe you are going to drive half an hour over the mountain to get to a drugstore.

And for the most part, if you are a liberal, you are going to be more comfortable here, the republican governor not withstanding. The only reason he got elected is that he promised to lower taxes, not that he has been able to do that.

#12 Comment By s On June 30, 2018 @ 12:13 am

They have a socialist senator… why would anyone risk their life’s work by retiring to a place half way to the Soviet Union?

#13 Comment By jay kalend On June 30, 2018 @ 7:10 pm

“Opening a nanobrewery doesn’t require a large labor force”.

Which reminds me, Dogfish’s latest brewery is an 80K sf facility in Delaware that only requires five employees!

Which explains the bidding war among localities to slash taxes to zero to attract business at any cost. There is little in most localities that empty buildings, open lots, and some vestiges of a sewer and water system to create new rateables.

It suggests to me that all governments except the federal should give up the game of attracting business development. For what Washington now throws away in community preservation and job development, we could have a new homestead act, to more efficiently utilize the dying localities we have.

#14 Comment By Phillip On July 2, 2018 @ 10:09 am

I look at one thing when I move somewhere – property taxes. Because even if I take Buffalo up on their $1 house, how much are they going to rape me to live there?

I’ve got a “paid for” house here in Florida, but even that is total BS, because every year I have to pay Florida $2,400 in property taxes just for the “priviledge” of living here.

Same reason why people are just abandoning their houses in New Jersey. You can’t give away property if you are just going to rape people with property taxes.

Which leads me to my closing remark – there is no such thing as a paid off house. You rent it from the government for the rest of your life.

#15 Comment By Anthony M. On July 2, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

If all you care about is keeping your taxes low I might suggest moving to Honduras. Very low taxes!

(of course you have to deal with the consequences of low taxes…)

#16 Comment By mrscracker On July 2, 2018 @ 12:05 pm

FL Transplant says:

My wife enjoys a show on the DIY network where a lady renovates abandoned homes in Detroit, “Rehab Addict”. Unless you’re willing to go through what she shows needing to be done buying a dollar house is a big, big mistake.”
**************

I’ve seen that show, too & enjoyed it. It was nice to see someone rehab an older home without totally destroying it’s historical integrity.

It’s going to depend a lot on the condition of the home, but if you’re not trying to recreate what you see on TV shows, you can sometimes get away with spending much less time & money.

I bought a little 2 bedroom home that was structurally sound but everything else was in terrible repair. It cost $36,000. total-materials & labor- for replacing all the doors, drywall, molding, flooring, light fixtures, & paint. Opening one wall partially to the living room, totally gutting a bathroom & replacing fixtures that looked like they’d come from an abandoned nursing home.

I still have kitchen countertops & cabinets circa the Dukes of Hazzard, but fake wood Formica’s not that bad really.
🙂

#17 Comment By LouB On July 2, 2018 @ 1:15 pm

I spent a few minutes with one of the job aggregator sites looking at all the employment in Vermont.
A 10K grant won’t go far when there is a dearth of employment.

RE: Phillip

“Same reason why people are just abandoning their houses in New Jersey. You can’t give away property if you are just going to rape people with property taxes.”

Yep. Just try Illinois on for size.
That’ll really give ya the willies!

#18 Comment By mrscracker On July 2, 2018 @ 2:38 pm

Anthony M. says:

If all you care about is keeping your taxes low I might suggest moving to Honduras. Very low taxes!

(of course you have to deal with the consequences of low taxes…)”
**************
Much of the South has low property taxes, too. There are homeowner exemptions & a tax break for agricultural use also, if that applies.

#19 Comment By Winston On July 2, 2018 @ 6:35 pm

Young worker shortage will be nationwide with Boomer retirement.

Vermont has small population, so is feeling it more and it doesn’t have desirable area like Mass does.

#20 Comment By Winston On July 2, 2018 @ 6:44 pm

@mrscracker, South has low property taxes- because cities have annexed burbs, new burbs have not had to pay maaintenace/ upgrade costs.
[9]
“Temporary Trailer” becomes a voting residence through “Rent-A-Voter” service

[10]
How a Few Rent-A-Voters in a Vacant Lot Lead to Millions in Bonds for Taxpayers
[11]
Growing governments: How ‘special districts’ spread across Texas with limited oversight and accountability — but with plenty of power to tax
[12]
Special districts — with power to tax — grow like weeds in Texas

Special districts, by the way is Illinois’ problem:
Do check out Strong Towns about suburaran ponzi scheme.
.
Southern states are also poor;and demogrophic transition will make things worse for the South (hint-will get poorer).

Actually property taxes are rising in South.

#21 Comment By mrscracker On July 3, 2018 @ 12:43 pm

Winston ,
Texas is known for its high property taxes but that doesn’t apply to every other state in the South.
Rural Southern areas I’m familiar with-like the one I live in -have very reasonable property taxes. Sales taxes can be higher though. They’re going to get you one way or the other.

You’re right that property taxes are rising. I see that happen incrementally, but compared to Up North we still have a very good deal.

#22 Comment By There and Then On July 4, 2018 @ 2:34 am

High taxes are relative to what you receive for those taxes. I take a multi-week motorcycle trip every year. I am always surprised when I ride through places like Kansas, Missouri, and southern states. I see most if not all county roads are dirt. In small towns many city streets are dirt. I live in one of those high tax states in the Pacific Northwest. Few county roads and virtually no city streets are unpaved.

I rode through New Hampshire a few years back and was held up by numerous construction projects. I noted no hard hats or reflective garments on workers. Obviously New Hampshire saves tax payers money by having few if any worker safety rules. Their license plates have the logo “Live Free or Die.” I guess the emphasis is on “Die.”