A man works on a laptop in a cafe.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

You could get up to $10,000, as long as your full-time job is based in another state.

Looking for a raise? If you keep your job, you could pocket an extra $10,000 by moving to Vermont.

A new bill signed into law Wednesday will pay remote workers $5,000 a year for two years to make the Green Mountain State their home, as long as their employer is based somewhere else.

The bill’s backers say it’s an effort to address a challenge with the state’s small, aging population—a 2017 census estimate placed it at just under 630,000, making Vermont less populous than Columbus, Ohio. “We need more people in the state and people participating in the workforce,” said Joan Goldstein, the commissioner of Vermont’s Department for Economic Development.

It could be easier to convince people to move if they don’t have to change jobs, Goldstein said, and the money could help with relocation expenses or renting co-working spaces.

To qualify, workers must be full-time employees who do the majority of their work inside a home office or co-working space in Vermont, and who work for a business based out of the state. Those who establish residency in January 2019 would be the first people eligible for the program.

“What we’re offering is really just a way for people to become aware that there are opportunities here,” Goldstein said. Vermont is a popular destination—it receives up to 13 million visitors a year. But most of those people come up for a ski weekend or fishing trip, seeing the state as a place to vacation, not to live. Vermont’s new Stay to Stay weekends program is trying to address this by inviting weekend visitors to extend their stays and meet with young professionals, community leaders, employers, realtors, and co-working spaces.

And there’s a growing pool of remote workers to attract. In 2017, a Gallup poll found that 43 percent of employed Americans had worked remotely for at least some amount of time; a four percentage increase from 2012. A 2017 report from FlexJobs found that 3.9 million Americans work from home at least half of the time. Gallup’s report found “that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job.” And working from home can save both employers and employees thousands of dollars.

The authors of the new law are banking on out-of-staters falling in love with the state and its communities. “We think it’s at least an entrée into the state,” Goldstein said. The remote-worker program “might be what attracts them, and then they decide to look for a job here to develop more of a social network. As long as we get them here, we think there may be an opportunity for that.”

But the fact remains that the state is paying people to move explicitly to work for companies that are based elsewhere. When asked if she thought that might upset in-state businesses and workers, Goldstein said she was waiting to see. Unlike more controversial bills about minimum wage and family leave, this effort hasn’t gotten much press coverage, and thus there has been little awareness about it.

“Once we start promoting [the bill] I think there will be pushback,” she said. The bill originally had benefits for all workers moving into Vermont, but the broader provision fell out before the bill was passed. If local businesses or residents complain, Goldstein said she hopes future legislation can give similar stipends to anyone moving to Vermont for work, “whether you move to an out-of-state or in-state company.”

State auditor Doug Hoffer told Seven Days, a Vermont weekly, that he has some reservations about how the program will pay off. “Attraction and retention are notoriously difficult to prove,” he said. “Where is the evidence that this… will return at least as much to the state [in economic growth]?”

Kelly Devine, the executive director and president of the Burlington Business Association, says the idea could actually help local businesses, because it could open the state’s range of professional opportunities. “It may give someone more of an incentive to relocate to Vermont,” she said, “because they have a variety of opportunities rather than just one, and that variety may include remote working.”

“We have a relatively low unemployment in the state, but also a shortage of skilled workers,” said Devine. “One of the challenges of attracting skilled workers to Vermont is that there isn’t a lot of lateral opportunity.” Should a potential employee be offered a job in Vermont, she said, they might be hesitant to move somewhere that has no other opportunities in their field.

There are many details that have yet to be hammered out, and questions that likely will not be answered till a few years into the program. How will people prove that they have been actively living in the state for a year to earn the $5,000? If the scheme attracts highly-paid workers—the ones most likely to have the option to work remotely—will it raise living costs for long-time Vermont residents? And, perhaps most trenchantly, will remote workers who move to the state eventually decide to put down roots and jump ship to work for local companies, as Goldstein hopes?

In the meantime, should you want to fulfill a long-held dream of moving to the mountains and working far away from your co-workers, Vermont has a paid pitch for you.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Ohio city with a larger population than Vermont. It is Columbus, not Cleveland.

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