Business & Economy

Rutland County embarks on digital marketing campaign to boost local population

Killington Grand Hotel is in the background as skiers head out. Killington Resort is planning a major expansion, the first phase of which will add a base lodge and nearly 200 condos and three dozen homes. Wikimedia Commons photo
The U.S. women’s alpine world cup at Killington Thanksgiving weekend promises to be a media spectacle attracting tourists and skiers from the northeast and beyond. According to event organizers the two-day competition is likely to draw thousands of people to the valley. It is the first World Cup in the northeast 25 years.

That same weekend the first prong of a major marketing campaign designed to rebrand the region and reverse years of demographic decline will be unveiled. The website, is one small part of a multi-year effort that local business leaders, including the Rutland Economic Development Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce hope will attract young families to the area and debunk the myth that there are no jobs or opportunities in Rutland.

Last week the group announced that it was seeking proposals for a digital marketing campaign focused on population growth, improved tourism marketing, and a push to retain more local students and young professionals. The Board of Aldermen has committed $100,000 over the next two years from the Zamias impact fund and another $100,000 has been raised by local businesses.

The marketing plan is focused on “rebuilding the regional population.”

Mary Cohen, the executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, says the group envisions “a fundamental shift in focus, in how we talk about the region and how we spend limited marketing dollars.”

Downtown Rutland. Photo courtesy of Instagram user @mileslinsmith

Lyle Jepson REDC’s executive director says they are now in the process of meeting with town managers and select boards in the county to raise money and gather information on the assets each town would like to see highlighted as part of the campaign. He said they’ve been “very graciously received” and that “people understand the problem and the need.”

“We’re being pretty transparent,” Jepson said. “We’re coming for money.”

But he also emphasized they’re looking for people to participate in a non-monetary way and that the campaign should be understood as a five to 10 year plan, not a quick fix. The marketing effort is made up of three subcommittees: one devoted to quality of life and population growth, another to workforce development, and a third to the Killington Valley initiative, which is largely built around outdoor recreation. “Within each committee we need help,” Jepson said.

Rutland County has experienced a sharp demographic decline over the last two decades and current projections suggest that the trend will continue. According to the department of labor even under the best case scenario Rutland is likely to see its population decline by another 5 percent over the next 10 years. The latest census figures show that the county has lost nearly 2,000 people in the last five years alone.

“The population is shrinking faster than any other county,” said Art Woolf an associate professor of economics at UVM. Woolf pointed out that since 2000 Rutland’s population has declined by almost twice that of neighboring Windsor County and he said the reasons aren’t entirely clear. Some of it has to do with the loss of manufacturing jobs, the 2008 economic recession, and challenges associated with the heroin epidemic and the perception that Rutland is somehow worse off than the rest of the state.

However Jepson and others believe the trend can be reversed or at least slowed, both by attracting young families to the region and convincing students to stick around after they’ve graduated.

“We believe we will see incremental change and that 5 years from now we hope to look back on this and say this is really working,” Jepson said.

Chrispin White, Director of the Center for Community engagement at Castleton University, says they have a database of 15,330 alumni and that roughly 7,500 have remained in state.

White said the figure came as something of a surprise because the dominant narrative is that young people and students are leaving Vermont en masse. Although nearly half of the alumni in the database have stayed or returned to Vermont it’s unclear how many are in Rutland. Jim Watson, who grew up in Rutland and now lives in Denver, Colorado, said he’s had several classmates from High School who’ve returned to Vermont but that most of them live in Burlington.

Cheryl Morse, a geographer at UVM who has studied migration in the state says the division between rural and urban areas is becoming more pronounced.

According to Morse one in four Vermonters live in Chittenden County. Meanwhile other parts of the state notably Essex, Rutland, and Windsor counties are losing people. “The gap is growing,” said Morse.

Vince Bolduc, a professor of sociology and anthropology at St. Michael’s college says while it may be true that young, well-educated people are leaving the state that tends to be the case in most places and should not be overstated. In a 2015 paper on Vermont’s domestic migration patterns, Bolduc pointed out that Vermont’s rate of growth is lower than the nation as a whole but not out of character with other New England states.

Yet Rutland faces its own demographic challenge and the marketing plan is aimed squarely at addressing it. According to the press release announcing the digital marketing campaign, “Stopping and reversing Rutland County’s population declines is critical to the economic health of the state and the Rutland/Killington region and is at the heart of the effort.”

The Killington Valley website will showcase the region’s trail riding opportunities and other recreational assets. It also includes a video that tries to connect the various outdoor amenities with what Rutland and other towns have to offer. Here you can mountain bike, ski, or hike during the day, have dinner in Rutland, and then go to the Paramount.

The hope Jepson says is that young folks in metropolitan areas will “fall in love with Vermont like we have.”

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  • edward letourneau

    People are leaving because we have an unbalanced legislature that keeps writing laws aimed at Chittenden County, which make it harder and more costly to live in the rest of the state — and its been amplified by the utopia thinking democrats that keep spending more then we can afford. — If the need is to stabilize the population, start cutting costs and taxes and fees.

    Like it or not, these people need to understand that when it costs 30% more to live here than other places with jobs and the same green mountains, people are going to leave.

    • John French

      The anointed of this state need to understand that,to carry out there utopian vision one needs a job to sustain there family.So all the benefits of a vermont life style are useless.We need to make an all out effort to attract manufacturing jobs. Something that adds to the economy,not service oriented jobs. Stop with the mentality of”build it and they will come” it does not work. The state needs to stop buying people to live here and start buying business to produce here, in Rutland county.

      • Amber Goss

        Manufacturing jobs have limits, and automation is not slowing down.

        • Julia Purdy

          Vermont is historically known for its excellence in precision manufacturing and the high level of skill in its work force. That’s why GE recently won a huge contract. It also offers a friendly environment for small specialized subcontractors such as GW Plastics in Bethel, advanced illumination in Rochester, and many, many others: neighborhood companies that pay well, are within reasonable commuting or walking or bicycling distance from home, are good neighbors in the community, and yet compete on the world market. These are not likely to become heavily automated, as the nature of their work doesn’t require it. Human brains and fingers do fine.
          This is a fertile area for Vermont to keep developing.

      • Jan van Eck

        Rutland can easily develop manufacturing, and the jobs and wealth that brings; it has historical assets including a fine airport and rail connections. Rutland would work as a site for railcar assembly and a repair-service shop. Rutland County could also become a manufacturer of rail ties; there is no RR tie manufacturer anywhere in New England, yet the surrounding woods contain mixed hardwoods perfect for RR ties. Rutland can fabricate anything from Adirondack deck chairs to window shutters. Lots of opportunities out there. Add capital and imagination, and it will come together.

    • Julia Purdy

      Recent history of Vermont is worth knowing about. In 1984 William Doyle published “The Vermont Political Tradition and Those Who Helped Make It,” which describes just what the above post is talking about.
      In 1965, shortly after the reins were taken by Democrat Governor Phil Hoff, a lawsuit was brought that sought to remedy what Democrats saw as the “invidious” advantage enjoyed by the predominantly Republican rest of the state in forging policy in Montpelier. In particular, it claimed that as Burlington grew, it was becoming underrepresented relative to the rest of the state, under the concept of “one man one vote.” Doyle writes: “The most populous areas of the state, most often Democratic, benefited.” Up till then, every town sent a representative to Montpelier. This court agreed, and in one fell swoop the majority of Vermonters were stripped of a source of local pride and participation in government. Time to revisit reapportionment, perhaps.

      • In 1964 the Supreme Court ruled that all state legislatures must be apportioned by population. The next year a Federal district court said specifically to Vermont: Do It or we’ll do it for you. No point revisiting this.

    • Housing is much more expensive in Chittenden county. Vermont as a state needs to grow.

      • Julia Purdy

        Growth is a double-edged sword. One reason for the high expense in housing in Chittenden County is just that: growth, especially in the high-paid professional and public sectors. Incremental growth, with the assistance of Act 250 and our anti-sprawl policies, could allow for growth to spread more evenly throughout the state, responsive to local realities and local labor force. The Vt. Dept. of Labor produces much useful data but probably needs to “drill down” into individual communities like Rutland to develop customized data, since Vermont is traditionally highly individualized.

  • Wendy Wilton

    Rutland, and particularly the city, is a good place for young professionals, and not just because of the skiing! Real estate is reasonable, we have great internet access, the train to NYC, flights to Boston, a great theatre, great food and wine scene, and a wonderful group of young professionals who are the strongest group in the state.

    While many of VT youth leave the state to find their future, if they return they may find Rutland is a great place to return. In my opinion Rutland would rank second behind Burlington, but with better for recreational access and a more community feel than ChittCo.

    • Jeffrey D. Marshall

      Sounds like a great endorsement of refugee resettlement! Young families eager to grow and prosper in a county that clearly needs a population boost. It’s a win-win situation.

    • Richard M Roderick

      Where do the trade and blue collar people fit into this picture?

      • Amber Goss

        Time to evolve along with the jobs.

    • Julia Purdy

      Generally good, but: skiing is very expensive. You need a very well-paying job to afford that particular recreational activity. Also, one would hope that people would move here not only for the skiing but to plan on becoming “Vermonters” and respecting our history, culture and people. When the initial euphoria wears off, culture shock sets in: “Is there all there is?” So folks thinking of moving here should carefully consider their personal resources and not come emptyhanded if possible.

  • It’s jobs we need here, not just marketing. Once we have the opportunities in place then we can go ahead and advertise ourselves. Marketing without substance behind it will ultimately fail because we are offering people empty promises; not good. 🙁

  • Dan Burks

    Lets see:
    1. An annual winner of ‘one of the least desirable states for business’ for more than a decade;
    2. An annual winner of ‘one of the least desirable states for retirees’;
    3. Consistently one of the top 10 state ‘welfare providers’, with benefits now exceeding $20/hr;
    4 The only state in the Union with a progressive property tax system calculated to provide permanent teacher employment regardless of, and indifferent to enrollment.
    5. And now, no surprise, one of the most lethal heroin epidemics in North America.
    These ‘attributes’ are probably better recognized outside the state than within, given the limited to non-existent attention they receive.
    In my opinion these marketing dollars should be divided between ‘education’ and a serious legislative overhaul.

  • Gail johnson

    Rutland City, like Rutland County, is full of promise for future growth. However, it seems there might be several impediments to our region experiencing real achievement. I have heard that planners are seeking outsiders to tell us what’s off balance here and are willing to spend big bucks for them. We have experts within Vermont very adept at lending guidance to our dilemma and we should call on their talents as they have Vermont insights. Secondly, marketing plans can sell the sizzle only if there’s something cooking. We would do well to start enticing companies to move here before we invite young families to load up the van just to add to our population numbers.

    • Julia Purdy

      Another thought to add: why cannot young Vermonters, who are here already, paying taxes, with local roots, not be educated and/or trained to fill the positions that out-of-state people are currently being recruited to fill? Is our higher education industry preparing–across the board, in the liberal arts schools as well as the technical/business/nursing programs–young Vermonters to meet the demands of local employers? Maybe many Vermonters are leaving because they are feeling pushed out? The glitch there is, even if they eventually come back, they will have lost their place in line.

  • For those of you who are unaware, Rutland County is the hidden gem not only of Vermont, but all of New England. One only needs to look at the revitalization of the Paramount Theater, fantastic restaurants and businesses in downtown Rutland, West Rutland, and Killington, the beauty of Pine Hill, and overall devotion to community to realize that there are acres of diamonds buried here. I applaud all of the efforts being made to spread the word and am happy to contribute.

    • Scott Greene

      This is very true, as are the comments of Wendy Wilton. Rutland has an amazing natural setting, infrastructure and access.

      In my opinion, the county should also push the utilization of incubator spaces of all kind not just tech. Energy efficient buildings with easy access, good work flow, and solid utility tie ins. Encourage micro industry as a way to grow meaningful work.

      Locally owned retail also needs to be a bigger part of the picture especially those that sell locally manufactured goods/ repair service. Retail dollars quickly head out of state in this region.

      Unfortunately the politics may not be conducive. The good people of Rutland need to loudly counter the insular, insipid negativity that is all too apparent to outsiders (including Vermonters) looking in. Outsiders, youthful and otherwise, (short sided or not) seek a place with an overwhelmingly welcoming good vibe. That is a no brainer.

  • For a community to escape from its backwater situation it needs at least three things: an interstate highway, a good airport and a university. Castleton University with Rutland connections is a good start. The Rutland airport spends a lot of time in the fog. Routes 7 and 4 don’t cut it. For years visionaries in Rutland have wished for a four-lane connection of Route 4 in New York to the Northway, a four-way highway to Burlington (probably Route 22A) and the Glens Falls-Rutland airport. Don’t hold your breath.

    • Amber Goss

      I think a commuter rail would also do wonders for our area.

  • Jacob Miller

    “Plan B” for the Chamber’s effort:

    Italy isn’t the first destination to try to encourage its population to take holidays to boost the country’s falling birth rate.

    In June, Denmark was on the verge of a baby boom – nine months after running a campaign urging people to have more sex.

    A television advert called ‘Do it for Mom!’ was released last year to encourage Danes to go on holiday in a desperate bid to increase the country’s birth rate.

    The steamy campaign advert was aimed at older parents and recommended that they contribute to their adult children’s getaways so that they can get a grandchild ‘nine months later’.

    Reports have since emerged that Denmark was expecting an extra 1,200 births as a result compared to last year.

  • Pete Novick

    I read the article waiting for the paragraph that described the robust economic growth of Keene, NH over the last 30 years. Must have missed it.

    A drive through Brattleboro, followed by a drive through Keene is all you need to understand the dynamics. What is even more astounding is that Brattleboro is on an interstate, while Keene is 22 miles away.

    A good proxy for gauging economic growth is to look up year-on -year growth in new housing starts and commercial building permits. On that basis, Keene’s economy is on fire.

    How do they do it?