MONTPELIER, Vt. - Plenty of workers relocate for a job. But not many move to a new state to work from home -- and get paid to do it.
Vermont's Remote Worker Grant Program offers up to $5,000 a year to new residents who move to the state and work remotely for employers based in another state.
The program went into effect at the start of the year. Money is approved on a first come, first served basis and applicants can apply for up to $10,000 over two years to cover eligible expenses, including moving costs, computer equipment, broadband access and co-working space memberships. To be eligible, new residents had to move on or after January 1, 2019. They can reapply for another grant of up to $5,000 next year.
So far, 33 grants have been approved and a total of $125,000 awarded, according to Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development. The average grant has been around $3,700.
Beth Dow first approached the idea of moving to Vermont as a joke when she and her husband saw the headlines about the program. But when they started to think about it more seriously, the idea didn't seem so crazy.
She was tired of her 45-minute commute into Denver each morning and local real estate prices were impeding the couple's dream of opening an art gallery. So they decided to look into the possibility of heading East.
Dow approached her employer about working remotely full time. Her boss was open to the idea, but Dow did have to change positions since her previous role as a supervisor required face-to-face training. She is now a claims adjustor, but her salary remains the same.
The grant money was a main factor in the couple's decision to relocate. "Moving across the country is not cheap," Dow, who is 38, said. "I don't think we would have done it without the reimbursement. It really felt like a no-brainer. We were looking to move but hadn't made a major step yet."
The couple bought a home in Bennington, Vermont, for roughly half the cost of their home in the Denver area that is nearly the same size. They were granted $5,000 to cover their expenses, and plan to apply for a $5,000 reimbursement next year as well.
The pair also recently signed a lease for gallery space in Bennington they will run on the weekends.
Vermont's graying population
Around one-third of Vermont's households have someone age 65 or older, according to Goldstein.
"Once those people retire, how do we fill the workforce? It has ramifications for economic growth. If you don't have a growing population, how do you grow the economy? That is the issue."
The grant program has helped attract a younger crowd. Of the accepted applicants so far, the average age is 37 and nine applicants have school-aged kids.
The state has seen falling enrollments at K-12 schools and some colleges have closed over enrollment numbers.
"That's not good in a small town," said Goldstein. "Small towns need those colleges in the community. Lack of growth and prosperity is a very serious issue."
And with fewer people in the state, costs weigh more heavily.
"Everything is more expensive when sharing the burden with less people," said Goldstein. "When you bring on more people, you share the cost burden. A lot of government costs are fixed costs, you need more people to share those costs."
News of the grant program was hard for Teddy Martin to ignore. "People kept telling me about it," the 30-year-old software engineer said.
He and his wife were living in New York City and they were already considering relocating after a few of their friends had moved away. "We didn't feel like we wanted to be in New York anymore."
They first thought about moving to New Orleans, where Martin grew up. But Teddy's sister was already living in Vermont, which made the program even more enticing.
The couple moved to Brattleboro at the end of January and they're enjoying the change of scenery so far.
"We have more space, there is no question," he said of their rented apartment. "We generally feel healthier."
There has been some pushback from long-term residents who have been shouldering high taxes for a long time.
But a dwindling population can have negative long-term consequences.
"It's an overhang and dampens potential for growth," said Goldstein. "Think of businesses trying to grow but can't get enough workers -- they could go elsewhere and not struggle."
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