Is Vermont’s remote-worker program a model?
The state of Vermont is hoping two new grant programs will help remedy a serious workforce challenge.
The state’s population has remained stagnant for more than five years. Likewise, more than 20% of its roughly 627,000 residents will be 65 or older by 2026. If the nation’s unemployment stays as low as the current 3.7% rate, Vermont employers could be headed into a perfect worker-shortage storm.
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So, state legislators launched the State of Vermont Remote Worker Grant Program in January. The state would reimburse remote workers—anyone who lived outside the state—up to $5,000 for relocating to Vermont, explains Joan Goldstein, the state’s commissioner of economic development. So far, she says, 70 individuals—ranging from architects to insurance adjustors—have moved with their families from California, Texas, Florida and other states, totaling 170 new residents.
“Our department was tasked with implementing [the program],” she says, adding that the legislature allocated $500,000 in grant monies over the next three years.
The amount of press generated since the governor signed the program into law last June, she says, has been “humongous.” The state’s website received billions of hits, and the program gained so much momentum that people from different countries have expressed interest.
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Nine months later, Goldstein’s office still receives several applications each week. To qualify, she says, candidates must first establish residency, show employer verification of their remote-worker status and then offer proof of expenses, which could include costs for moving, broadband hookup or even rent for shared office space.
Meanwhile, state legislators created another grant program, funded with $1.195 million, Goldstein says. Starting this coming January, anyone—not just remote workers—who wants to live and work in Vermont can receive up to $7,500 in relocation fees.
She anticipates that the Remote Worker Grant Program will attract up to 30 more applicants this year but expects the second program to draw close to 1,000 people throughout 2020.
Although Vermont employers support both programs, Goldstein says, its critics believe the grant funds should be given to Vermont residents, not outsiders. Still, she says, these programs are simply part of the state’s multi-pronged approach, which also includes workforce-development programs and incentives for employers to grow their business in the state.
“Everyone has to get a little smarter in this low unemployment-rate environment about how to get people,” she says, adding that the press coverage for the Remote Worker Grant Program was worth millions in advertising and helped generate a database of thousands of job candidates. “When people move, they have to change their life. At least now, they can take their job with them.”