It seems everyone has an anecdote lately about Vermonters returning to their home state or newcomers moving in. Housing is scarce in some parts of the state.
But the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs isn’t taking any chances when it comes to attracting new residents. This year, it’s seeking to make its popular move-to-Vermont incentives permanent.
The panel has proposed a $1 million program that would reimburse a worker who is new to the state $5,000 for moving expenses. That amount would rise to $7,500 for someone who moves to an area with a higher-than-average unemployment rate or lower-than-average annual wages.
Vermont’s popular remote worker program garnered international headlines when it debuted in 2018 offering a $10,000 moving reimbursement for any new resident who would work remotely. Its success shows that these programs should continue, said Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), a supporter of the bill. He sees the new measure, which would combine two earlier versions, as something similar to the business incentive programs that are used to lure companies.
“There are some states in the South literally spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per job to bring in auto plants and other things,” said Brock. “These are situations a state like Vermont can’t afford.”
In contrast, the new bill, would repay anyone who becomes a full-time resident and full-time employee of a job that pays slightly above minimum wage.
“This is a very modest program that is designed to bring jobs to Vermont by bringing people to Vermont, and people along with their jobs,” said Brock.
Moving incentives aren’t what brought Kristina Buoni and her family to Vermont. But the state repaid them $7,500 for their move from Reston, Va., last year. Buoni is an oncology nurse who fills a critical need in the state.
The family moved to Vermont because of the state’s values, especially the common emphasis on protecting and enjoying nature and the outdoors, said Buoni. She and her husband have a 2-year-old and live in Waitsfield.
“I feel like there is less pressure on kids to be at the top of their class; there are more outdoor spaces and activities,” Buoni said, noting that the class sizes are smaller in Vermont.
The incentive helped a lot when Kristen Brosnan moved her family of six to Colchester to start a job at Superior Technical Ceramics in St. Albans last summer.
Brosnan, of Niskayuna, N.Y., was recruited to work as technology director at the company, which makes high-end ceramics for the aerospace, defense, semiconductor and energy industries. Her husband is self-employed with a company that creates GIS systems.
“It costs about $10,000 to move a six-person family,” said Brosnan. “It made a big difference to us.”
The idea of paying people to move to Vermont started in the Senate Economic Development Committee, but the Scott administration quickly jumped on board after the idea drew thousands of queries and hundreds of visits to state-run events. Many other states and municipalities started their own incentive programs after Vermont’s took off.
State Auditor Doug Hoffer was a critic from the start, noting in late 2019 that early users of the program were reimbursed for expensive amenities, such as three high-definition computer monitors (one of them curved), a printer, a 27-inch iMac desktop, and an Alienware Aurora high-performance gaming desktop. He also said there’s no way to be sure people wouldn’t have moved to Vermont without the incentives.
Since then, lawmakers have refined the program, reducing the incentive cap and limiting what expenses can be reimbursed. But Hoffer’s still not a fan. He noted Tuesday that according to news reports, Vermont is experiencing an influx of new residents.
“With this in mind, I question the wisdom of this approach, especially when we have so many other unmet needs for existing Vermont residents,” he said.
The measure is headed to Senate Appropriations next, and would need to be approved by the House if it’s to reach the governor’s desk for signature. Rep. Mike Marcotte (R-Coventry), the chair of the House Commerce Committee, said he doesn’t know enough about it yet to say how it will be received on his side.
“In the past, we haven’t been that crazy about the program,” said Marcotte, who doesn’t plan to pass judgment on the idea until he sees the proposal. “Is this the right time to be funding a program like that when people are already moving here because they want to be safe? Should we be paying their expenses to do that? I think that’s a valid question to ask.”