The Remote Worker Grant Program (RWGP) is an economic development initiative launched by the VT legislature in 2018. The RWGP provides funds to professionals who want to relocate to Vermont but still maintain employment out-of-state. These funds are used to offset their cost of moving here. According to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s Department of Economic Development (ACCD), the managing entity of this program, this program benefits Vermonters “by increasing the population of taxpayers in the state as well as increasing the number of children enrolled in Vermont schools. It also helps to build the employment base as Vermont faces a workforce shortage and employers are struggling to find workers.”
ACCD requires applicants to meet a series of eligibility criteria for consideration.
• New remote workers must be an individual who is a full-time employee as defined by the employer and who receives a W-2 from their employer.
• New remote workers must become a full-time resident of Vermont on or after January 1, 2019.
• New remote workers must perform the majority of their employment duties remotely from a home office or co-working space in Vermont.
• New remote workers must have incurred qualifying remote worker expenses. “Qualifying Remote Worker Expenses” is defined as actual costs a new remote worker incurred for relocation to Vermont and/or one or more of the following that is necessary to perform their employment duties that are not already reimbursed by the employer: computer software or hardware, broadband access or upgrade, membership in a co-working or similar space.
• New remote workers may be eligible to receive a reimbursement grant upon receipt by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development of the Remote Worker Grant Program application with documentation supporting the qualifying expenses and proof of residency. Applications must be received complete and error-free to be eligible
According to a report from the ACCD released on October 1st, the RWGP has resulted in a total of 218 new Vermonters. Between January 1 and September 15, 2019, ACCD awarded $320,834 to 84 new Vermont remote workers, with an average grant amount of $3,819. Grantees brought with them an additional 134 family members, including 44 children.
Of those 84 grantees, 70% were under the age of 40. The majority of these new Vermonters are highly educated, with 95% reporting having graduated from college and 37% reported to hold an advanced degree.
The top fields of employment represented by grantees were information technology (31%), management (13%), writing and editing (8%), finance and sales (6% each ), and marketing (5%). Other fields represented included insurance, education, project management, and law.
Professionals receiving grants originated from 30 different states. 13 people originated from New York, 10 from California, 10 from Massachusettes, 6 from Colorado, and 6 from Washington DC. They settled in 42 different towns across 12 Vermont counties. 45% relocated to Chittenden County, 10% to Washington County, 8% to Windsor County, and 7% to Rutland County. Essex and Grand Isle were the only two counties that did not receive any new workers through the Remote Workers Grant Program.
Recipients reported a variety of reasons for choosing Vermont. Top among them was access to outdoor recreation and nature, a factor cited by 81% of grantees. 67% were attracted to Vermont as a safe place to live and raise a family, while 58% cited the RWGP itself as a primary influence. Additional frequent responses included wanting to be closer to friends and family, and access to quality education. Others reasons noted were affordability, previous Vermont residency or school enrollment, environment, quality of life, political climate, leaving urban life, climate-resilient geographical location, and a robust culture of natural/local food production.
Only 4% referenced the availability of job opportunities as a primary factor influencing their decision to move to Vermont.
All in all, the program appears to be making good progress in accomplishing its intended purpose. Administrators have stated that they anticipate to have awarded all of the $500,000 appropriated to them by the end of 2019. What was missing from the report, however, was the projected actualized benefit of these investments. As of the September 15 numbers, we have invested $1471 in each of the 218 new Vermonters that relocated here. This is a fairly small amount in the grand scheme of things. For context, even if all $500,000 had been instead distributed as a tax rebate, each Vermonter would receive less than $1.00. Theoretically that $1500 per person should have a substantial return on investment (one person reporting purchasing a $450,000 house in Cambridge, another 64 acres in Pawlet, and many have rented or purchased new office spaces), but this needs to be backed up by the transparency of real data.
This will be especially important when a new, broader program kicks off. During the 2019 session, the Legislature approved an allocation of $1.195M for a similar relocation incentive that extends to any worker who moves here for a full-time, Vermont-based job. This New Worker Incentive Program must have accountability and transparency checks in place to ensure that grantees are following through on their commitments, filing their taxes, and providing an economic benefit. We cannot afford to gamble with our limited state budget; Vermonters are owed the assurance that their investment is seeing a return.