State launches new efforts to mint new Vermonters

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing has several new initiatives to both attract more visitors to the state and encourage tourists to move to Vermont permanently.
The department’s commissioner, Wendy Knight, said that such programs aim to address Vermont’s workforce development concerns by converting visitors into residents.
“We know that organically people who come to Vermont love it. They fall in love with the quality of life, the rural atmosphere, the outdoor recreation and then they move here,” Knight said. “If we’re able to increase the number of visitors who come here then we know that we’re exposing Vermont to a much broader audience.”
One way the department and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development hopes to attract visitors is by helping local craft beverage companies put down roots.
“We’re getting really well known nationally for our spirits, wine and cider, not just our beer,” Knight said. “It’s a priority for the governor, and it’s a priority for the Agency of Commerce, to support the craft beverage industry in Vermont. It’s great for the economy it’s great for attracting young workers, it’s great for attracting visitors.”
The Scott administration supports reducing the tax burden on spirit companies, which currently face a steep tax increase if they earn over $750,000 in sales annually.
“We want the spirit companies to grow and right now we are disincentivizing them to do that,” Knight said.
Knight said Gov. Phil Scott is also considering relaxing the health regulations on licensed lodging properties. The new policy, which would not be subject to the legislative process, would distinguish between small lodgings with a capacity of less than nine people and bigger rental operations.
“Affordability is an issue. We don’t want to make Vermont less affordable for Vermonters,” Knight said, explaining that one way to do that is by making it easier for Vermonters to participate in the short-term rental economy.
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development is also piloting new efforts to encourage people to move to Vermont. This includes a million-dollar incentives package that Gov. Scott proposed in his budget address on Jan. 23. The money would be broken up into $5,000 grants for those who want to relocate to Vermont and either take a local job or work remotely.
This proposal comes soon after the Remote Worker Grant Program went into effect on Jan. 1. Knight said the application for that remote worker program had been downloaded 2,000 times in the first three and a half weeks it was on the website, and that they have already approved two applications. Gov. Scott now hopes to use the same concept to fill the state’s labor force.
Knight’s department will also seek out new Vermonters through its “Stay to Stay” weekend program in which the department will help towns host prospective residents for a weekend. Visitors can meet real estate brokers and potential employers, while also enjoying what Vermont has to offer in terms of outdoor recreation.
The program launched as a pilot in 2018 and the department spent $30,000 in advertising to put on one weekend each in Rutland, Burlington, Bennington and Brattleboro. A total of 140 guests participated, and Knight said that, of those, seven have already moved to the state and 37 more are currently hunting for jobs and houses.
“The people who came to the Stay to Stay weekends came from all over,” she said. “I was really shocked and pleasantly surprised.”
Two of the 2019 weekends will be at ski resorts to target the more outdoorsy crowd. This addition is at least partially in response to feedback the agency received last year — 70 percent of those surveyed in connection with the Stay to Stay program said they were considering moving to Vermont because of access to nature and outdoor recreation.
Knight said that her department is open to expanding the Stay to Stay program to other communities, including towns in Addison County, if the Legislature appropriates more funds for the project. She said she could see a future partnership with the Vermont Mountain Biking Association to host biking-themed weekends in Middlebury, similar to the upcoming ski events.
For now, the Department of Tourism and Marketing is keeping focused on the same four towns and plans to host 15 weekends between February and November.
Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication to clarify that Tourism and Marketing is not an agency, but a department within the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. 

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