It’s an economic incentive tailor-made for the videoconferencing era. Late last month, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill that would provide up to $10,000 each to workers who promised to move to the Green Mountain State for the purpose of working remotely.
It may be the ultimate freelancer fantasy: getting paid to work from a home office, especially one situated among a beautiful rural landscape. But according to Vermont officials, it’s not just a quirky attempt to gain attention.
In an era when cities and states are promising million-dollar incentives for business relocation and spending money to build tech incubators, why not cut out the middlemen and just focus on the entrepreneur herself? As The Outline suggested, is this taking the idea of shopping for certain types of companies (high-tech and high-paying) and basically shopping for certain types of residents (wealthy, educated, and mobile)?
“We do indeed still have incentives aligned with businesses,” Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development, tells Curbed. “We still have that toolbox, including business grants as well as business incentives. Incentivizing individuals is just a different approach.”
When the state put together an economic development marketing plan a few years ago, it became clear Vermont had established itself as a destination for tourism, but wasn’t known nationally as a place to live or work.
Roughly 13 million people visit Vermont every year, according to state figures. This remote worker incentive is an effort to reach that sizable group, and attract a younger, tech-focused workforce to a state that has lost 16,000 workers since 2009.
“They already come here to ski, play, or visit, and may have a second home, but they can’t figure out what they’re going to do for a living in Vermont, they don’t have the network here,” says Goldstein. “This may entice them to come here and live in the state, keep their existing job, and broaden the tax base.”
The budget for the pilot program would provide up the $5,000 a year for two years for resettlement expenses for qualified applicants. A total of $125,000 of grant money, set to be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, has been made available in 2019. That amount would increase to $250,000 in 2020, then go back to $125,000 in 2021.
The requirements, which are being finalized, would include some form of residency requirement that still needs to be ironed out. Goldstein expects to have them finished by the end of the year.
Other cities have tried similar incentives in the past; corporations in Detroit funded a program to lure workers downtown in 2011. And remote working is on the upswing. A recent Gallup report found that the number of Americans working remotely rose from 39 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2016.
“Many jobs are really about your laptop and your phone,” says Goldstein. “Jobs are very mobile. And the prices of living in major metropolitan areas are so high. Maybe people want an alternative way of living, and don’t want to look for a small apartment and spend hours getting out of town every weekend.”
Goldstein says the state has already heard from more than 1,000 people interested in the program. She also says this doesn’t necessarily have to be for freelancers alone; corporations can take advantage of the incentive to hire remote workers.
It’s important to understand this isn’t the only workforce development program in Vermont, says Goldstein. There are 60-plus programs, mostly focused on training and educating Vermonters.
“This is shaking things up,” she says. “We need to do different things to get different results.”