Business & Economy

Vermont’s remote worker program set for launch after much fanfare

The Study Hall co-working space in Burlington. Photo via ThinkVermont

[W]ould-be Vermonters drawn by the state’s now-famous remote worker program will be able to try their luck with the state after Jan. 1, when the application process for the program launches.

But that doesn’t mean the state will be sending checks for $10,000 to remote workers any time soon. The money, touted in news stories around the country last summer, will come as reimbursement after workers move to Vermont and set up shop.

The program was conceived earlier this year in the Vermont Legislature, which passed it with a $500,000 authorization. It offers reimbursement of up to $5,000 per year for two years for moving expenses and some of the costs of setting up in a home office or coworking space in Vermont.

After Gov. Phil Scott signed the remote worker bill into law in May, news of the $10,000 incentive traveled widely on social media, and more than 3,000 people have enquired about the program, according to the Department of Economic Development, which is implementing the program.

The remote worker program also piqued interest in the state’s more low-key Stay to Stay program, which organizes informational meetings and tours for people who are interested in moving to Vermont, not necessarily to work remotely.

Michael Schirling

Commerce Secretary Michael Schirling. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing launched that program this year, and will seek to expand it in the coming legislative session, Mike Schirling, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said on Friday.

Stay to Stay attracted 140 out-of-state visitors to sessions around the state over the year, and Tourism Commissioner Wendy Knight said seven young professionals have since moved to Vermont from Colorado, Mississippi, and New Jersey.

Knight said another 37 reported they plan to do so eventually. Many of the out-of-staters who went to Stay to Stay gatherings said they had heard about that program after following up on reports about the remote worker program.

“As a marketing tool, it has been spectacular,” Schirling said of the remote worker program. “It’s those kinds of unique approaches that garner attention.”

He added that Stay to Stay cost the state only staff time; local partners provided volunteers and business people who talked to visitors about housing, jobs, schools, and other matters. Visitors paid their own travel and lodging expenses.

“We’ve made virtually no investment in that; we completely bootstrapped it,” he said. “Imagine if we put a little bit of money behind it, or if we used contemporary digital tools” to find people who might want to move to Vermont.

“Let’s hope we can work with the Legislature to continue the momentum started by the remote worker and a couple other things they started in the past session,” Schirling said. “Maybe even smaller footprint incentives than $10,000.”

Vermont is not the only place suffering from a population shortage; many states are having a similar problem. In November, Tulsa County in Oklahoma launched a program called Tulsa Remote that also offers $10,000 to newcomers to the area who can work remotely. To be considered for that program, which is paid for by a local private foundation, applicants need only be over 18, free to move to Tulsa within six months, be self-employed outside of the county or have full-time remote employment, and be eligible to work in the U.S.

Vermont’s program requires applicants to be full-time employees with a company that is domiciled outside of the state. Applicants must move to Vermont after Jan. 1, and do most of their work from a home office or co-working space in Vermont.

The launch of Tulsa’s program brought more attention to the Vermont program, said Schirling.

“We saw renewed interest because the stories on theirs pointed back to our story,” Schirling said. “So we saw additional inquiries as a result.”

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