This Weekend, Aging Vermont Will Try to Make Tourists Into Residents
It’s not only the ski slopes that are white in Vermont. It’s the hair on the heads of many state residents, whose median age, 42.6 in 2016, is the second-highest in the nation after Maine’s. With young people moving away, the state’s labor force is smaller than it was before the last recession, so labor shortages are serious. The unemployment rate in February was 2.8 percent, tied for fourth-lowest in the nation.
To rejuvenate its population, Vermont is starting a Stay to Stay Weekend tourism program that combines sightseeing and other standard tourist stuff on Saturdays and Sundays with a networking reception on Friday nights and visits on Mondays to employers, chambers of commerce, real estate agents, and incubators and makerspaces. Governor Phil Scott announced the program last month. The first one is April 6-9.
Other states have pitched tourists on becoming residents, but Vermont is the first to make a formal program out of it, says Wendy Knight, commissioner of the Department of Tourism and Marketing, who came up with the idea. “I got to thinking, visitors are an ideal captive audience,” she says.
The aim is not only to fill vacancies at local employers but to attract people who might want to start businesses or work remotely for employers in, say, New York or San Francisco. Lots of people dream about living in Vermont, with its postcard scenery and tranquility, Knight says . “We want to take down some of the barriers” that have prevented them from going ahead and doing so, she says.
A dozen people are attending the first program, which Knight calls “a pilot of a pilot.” One chamber representative told her that if not enough people show up to justify a networking reception, “maybe I’ll take them out for a beer.”
The state’s goal is to expand to about 1,000 visitors a year. The first participating cities are Bennington, Brattleboro, and Rutland, which are in southern Vermont and relatively accessible by car from population centers such as Albany, N.Y., Boston, Hartford, and New York City. She says other parts of Vermont are already expressing interest in getting in on the action.
Vermont isn’t the only place that’s getting creative to deal with labor shortages. Bloomberg Businessweek recently featured the efforts of three cities with ultralow unemployment rates: Ames, Iowa; Marietta, Ga.; and Portland, Maine.