‘Stay-to-Stay’ Brings Young Demographic to VT

By TAYLOR PHILLIPS

Vermont’s population is among the oldest in the nation, coming in third in terms of median age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means fewer available laborers, more demands on social services and an uncertainty about the future of the state. The good news? The Vermont government is well aware of the problem and intends to focus on revitalizing the state. 

“Expanding our workforce is one of the top priorities of my administration,” Gov. Phil Scott said in March, “We must think outside the box … to attract more working families and young professionals to Vermont.”

Part of the solution to this problem is the legislature’s Remote Worker Grant program, a highly publicized initiative that offers $10,000 to any young professional willing to relocate to Vermont and work remotely. The announcement of the grant program generated interest nationwide, and applications started rolling in on Jan. 1  of this year.

The Remote Worker Grant program is not the first program designed to lower the median age and build a bright future for the Green Mountain State. The Department of Tourism and Marketing is contributing to the efforts with their Stay-to-Stay program, which began in April 2018.

The hope is that people say, ‘I don’t just want to visit here, I want to live here.’”

— NATE FORMARLIE

Thirteen million people visit Vermont each year — an astonishing number of tourists for such a small state. From quick ski getaways to hiking honeymoons, these visitors overwhelmingly love the state. Their appreciation of the gorgeous Green Mountains, local food and community-minded culture means that many of these tourists return year after  year. The Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM) is working to persuade those people to turn their vacations into residency.

“We asked ourselves: how do we use the tools we have to help with this problem facing the state?” said Nate Formalarie, communications director for the Department of Tourism and Marketing. “The Stay-to-Stay pilot is a great way to pool the resources of the state and local folks.”

Stay-to-Stay began just last year as a pilot program. The initiative entices new residents by providing three days of whirlwind programming designed to showcase the best of Vermont and, ideally, to convince people that Vermont is the place for them.

“The hope is that people say, ‘I don’t just want to visit here, I want to live here,’” Formarlie explained.

While interested vacationers have to pay for their own travel and hotels, Vermonters organize everything else. On Friday night, participants in the program have a meet-and-greet opportunity to ask residents questions and introduce themselves to local employers, as well as to meet community organizers, members of the Chamber of Commerce and real estate agents. The cocktail-party-style gathering allows potential residents to get a feel for the area and to network.

Saturday and Sunday are set aside for the participants to explore the attractions of the region on their own, similar to a regular vacation. In Burlington, this can include a stroll down Church Street or a visit to Ben & Jerry’s. Vermont Vacation identifies items of interest for the potential residents in each of the communities in the program. Participants can sightsee, meet with realtors to find houses, set up interviews with employers, and enjoy all that Vermont has to offer over the course of their weekend.

The three-day adventure ends on Monday morning with a meeting about relocation that focuses on the logistics of moving to Vermont and the opportunities such a move provides. By the end of these three days, future Vermonters have the opportunity to pick out a house, interview for a job and find friends in a new neighborhood.

The inventive use of Vermont’s tourism draws has proved successful. Over the course of the four weekends organized by the VDTM last year, 140 people came to preview what life as a Vermonter looks like, and many of them fell in love with the incredible state.

“Seven of them have already moved, and 37 more are actively job searching and real-estate hunting to move within the next year,” Formalarie said.

The qualitative response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Sandra Hegedus traveled from Cleveland for a weekend in Brattleboro and told VTDigger that she loved Vermont. 

“There’s a progressive thought process and an acceptance of different kinds of people,” Hegedus said. Comments like these were echoed by many of the participants in the pilot program, who complimented everything from the beautiful fall weather to the political climate. High on the list of Vermont’s assets were maple creemees and the statewide community engagement with and commitment to environmentalism.

Positive reviews and the program’s 32% success rate bode well for the future. 1,200 people expressed interest in the program last year, although the number of available weekends limited how many people actually attended. Next year, Stay-to-Stay will have 15 different weekends in Burlington, Brattleboro, Manchester, Rutland and Bennington. The increased number of available weekends means that Vermonters can expect new neighbors in the coming years. The success of Stay-to-Stay only confirms what many Vermonters already knew: all it takes is one weekend to fall in love with the Green Mountain State.

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