Making a life in Addison County: Many young adults choose to stay in Vt.
Editor’s note — You’ve seen the headlines, you’ve heard the personal stories from friends and neighbors: Vermont needs to create more opportunities for its young people or else they will leave the state. But many young adults choose to stay here and many others return after a few years away.
This is the first installment of “Making a life in Addison County,” a series that will take a closer look at the lives of the 7,000 people between ages 20 and 34 who live in this county. What are they doing? Why did they stay or come back? How are they making it? Among other things, the series will look at the effect of the tough job market on the lives of young adults, whether they plan on remaining in the area and how they see the future of Addison County.
The series will include profiles in the newspaper, and a weekly multimedia profile at addisonindependent.com. The first profile of Derrick Dysktra, a 29-year-old New Haven dairy farmer, is now available here.
And if you have a story that deserves to be told about your decision to make Vermont your home, we want to hear from you. E-mail tips and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 388-4944.
ADDISON COUNTY — Last week, Derrick Dykstra was waking up at 3 a.m. to begin work on his New Haven dairy farm. It’s the busiest time of the year for the 28-year-old Addison County native, who is in a tough spot because of the falling price of milk.
A few miles away in Bristol, Erlé LaBounty, 29, was also rising at 3 a.m. — but to begin a different type of day. LaBounty works at Otter Creek Bakery in Middlebury, and five days a week he begins baking before sunrise.
In addition to their similar early morning schedules, LaBounty and Dykstra have a similar story. They are both native Vermonters who left the state after high school but returned to reestablish the roots they had originally set down.
View a multimedia profile of Derrick Dykstra, the first in the “Making a life in Addison County” series.
Both said they wanted to pursue careers and settle their adult lives in Addison County.
LaBounty enrolled in the New England Culinary Academy after high school, and worked in Alaska and Italy before returning to the Green Mountain State and landing his job at the bakery in Middlebury. Since his return he has also re-ignited the chocolate truffle business he started in high school.
After high school, Dykstra worked construction in Pennsylvania before coming back a few years ago to the New Haven farm his family has operated for three generations.
Dykstra and LaBounty are not alone — young people often leave Addison County to return later and establish adult lives. But many fear that the growing numbers of young people that leave the area and do not come back causes economic and social problems.
In 2006, Gov. Jim Douglas described “an exodus of young people,” that “we need to reverse.” A 2009 study by the Vermont Department of Labor found that the “out-migration of young people” was “challenging Vermont’s workforce.”
The study found that 20-to-35-year-olds made up just 19.2 percent of the Addison County population in 2007. This compared to the 29.7 percent of the population that was between age 35 and 54 that year. Statewide, 20-to-35-year-olds make up 18.4 percent of the Vermont population, according to the same study.
This relative lack of young adults in the area created apprehension about a “brain drain,” or fears that too many well-educated young adults were leaving the area, and hurting the economy.
However, Vincent Bolduc, a sociology professor at St. Michael’s College, explained that the out-migration of Vermont’s young professional population is normal — this is a mobile group everywhere.
“My overall feeling about the fear (of losing educated young adults) is that it is slightly exaggerated because as our educated population is leaving, others are coming in,” he said.
A wide range of stories lead young adults either to stay in this community or to move here from other areas, but Addison County draws many people in for the same reasons.
Although most young adults here do not share LaBounty’s and Dykstra’s early morning wakeup time, the two men’s rationale for choosing to lay down roots in Addison County is common.
LaBounty, who is originally from Randolph, wanted to stay close to his family in Vermont even if a considerable portion of the people he grew up with have left the state.
“It seems like more and more younger people are getting the hell out of here,” he said. “I guess it’s a fairly expensive place to live, but the quality of life is what I like about it here — and the changing of the seasons.”
Dykstra feels a similar draw to his physical surroundings, despite the brutal hours he has to work this time of year. Last week he had a few 3 a.m. to 11 p.m. workdays. But through sleep deprivation, Dykstra appreciates the character of the region.
“It’s the area — the scenery, the beauty around here, and the community,” said Dykstra. “You know you’re friends with everybody, you can wave at everybody.”
THE RECESSION AND YOUNG ADULTS
Although Dykstra’s rough work schedule results from troubles specific to the dairy industry, he is certainly not the only young adult in the area to feel a sting from the economic downturn.
The unemployment rate across all ages in Addison County is currently 6.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although there haven’t been recent analyses comparing unemployment rates in different age groups in Addison County, young workers are generally out of work more than the general population, according to a recent study by Congressional Joint Economic Committee.
And historically, young adults have experienced higher unemployment rates than the general population in Addison County. When the general unemployment rate in the county was 4.3 percent in 2000 during better economic times, workers 20 to 27 years old still experienced a 7.4 percent unemployment rate, according to data from the U.S. Census.
As young adults in Addison County look to improve their employment prospects, many of them hope further education will help them find jobs — or at least give them something productive to do while they wait out the economic downturn. The locations in Middlebury of Vermont Adult Learning and the Community College of Vermont have reported increased enrollment from unemployed workers in the past two years. Both offer classes that either move the less educated toward a high school diploma or give high school graduates the opportunity to take college classes. Lynn Coale, director of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, which offers vocational training for teens and adults, estimates that enrollment at the school has increased 15-20 percent since 2007.
On his New Haven farm, Dykstra still hopes to pursue his goal of owning land in Addison County, despite the tough economic times.
“If the financials of milk will let me, I want to purchase this place from the guy who bought it from my grandfather,” he explained.
And Dykstra certainly does not regret his decision to quit his job in Pennsylvania and return to the family dairy business. While he was working construction, Dykstra felt like “just another person on the road.”
But on his New Haven farm, Dykstra believes he is part of a community. Last week he was happy to lend bales of hay to his neighbor who used to milk his cows.
As he explains it, here in Addison County, “one hand washes the other.”
Reporter George Altshuler is at email@example.com.