Efforts to expand Vermont’s population and address a shortage of workers feature several statewide initiatives, including Stay-to-Stay Weekends.
Stay-to-Stay Weekends are essentially exploratory visits hosted by various chambers of commerce seeking to help people make a decision to move to Vermont.
“We have seen over 60 people move to Vermont as a result of these weekends since the inception of the program in 2018, (31 total weekends),” noted Elaine Haney, Think Vermont project manager at the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (VACCD).
Launched by the Agency’s Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM) with Bennington, Brattleboro, Burlington, and Rutland as hosts for the pilot project, they expanded to offer Stay-to-Stay Ski Weekends in 2019 with Bromley, Mount Snow, and Killington partnering with nearby chambers.
For the 2019-20 season, Stay-to-Stay Ski Weekends began at Jay Peak in December, continued at Bromley and Mount Snow in February, and conclude at Killington in March. These weekends, where visitors arrange and pay for their own travel, lodgings and meals, provide the opportunity to explore a move to Vermont through après-ski welcome receptions on Saturdays, further Sunday explorations of a region, and Monday morning meetings.
Nate Formalarie, VDTM director of communications, reported, “We have seen a lot of media attention around these initiatives, because they are new and different and innovative in how the state is trying to address its demographic crisis, which many states are also facing.”
Addressing the jobs new residents have taken, he said, “We are seeing a wide range of different jobs. Some remote work for out-of-state companies, others have taken jobs at schools, outdoor recreation businesses, and at colleges and universities. It is great to see such variety.”
Matt Harrington, director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber, whose team hosts the Stay-to-Stay Weekends in Bennington and Manchester, said the recent Bromley Stay-to-Stay Ski Weekend was “a big success” and the best turnout for a stay weekend to date.
A key aspect to the success of the program is the individual attention given to visitors through the Chamber’s concierge service, he noted. “The one-on-one assistance afforded to people is that of a friend or buddy, which shows that neighborly intimate attention you find in our small Vermont communities,” Harrington said, stressing it helps to convey the sense of community that is so appealing to visitors.
Returning to Killington/Rutland
Mary Cohen, executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, noted that Rutland has participated in spring, summer, and fall Stay-to-Stay Weekends and that this is the second year for a ski-stay weekend. “The events present wonderful networking opportunities for people thinking of moving to Vermont, but also for people new to the region looking to connect with others and employers,” she said.
“Fifty-six people in 23 families have moved to the region as a result of a combination of efforts” — the stay weekends, the Chamber’s regional marketing initiative, and its concierge service, Cohen noted.
The regional marketing program targets both East Coast urban dwellers and outdoor adventurers living in the West where the cost of living is much higher. The Chamber’s concierge service provides an interested visitor with personal contacts for help with making career, housing, business, education, and community connections.
Cohen said 19 people had registered (as of March 5) for the March 14-16 weekend, including two families from Colorado and people from Long Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Upstate New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Missouri.
The welcome reception takes place at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel at 6:30 p.m. and will give visitors an opportunity to meet local and regional people, new Vermonters, business people, and members of the Rutland Young Professionals and to ask questions at the informal event, Cohen said.
On Sunday visitors can ski and/or explore surrounding towns with the information about events and places to visit provided by the Chamber.
If resumes are received in advance of the visit, the Chamber may find openings with employers and try to match people for Monday 9 a.m. meetings, or people can talk to someone from the Vermont Department of Labor at the Chamber. At 10 a.m. there’s an opportunity to learn about a co-working or incubator space and to meet with entrepreneurs and other professionals, and at 11 a.m. to talk with a local realtor or tour the area. People do take advantage of these opportunities, Cohen noted.
The region’s assets — from recreational to business opportunities, events to education system — entice people to move here, Cohen said, stressing that the quality of life and affordable housing make a move desirable and doable. It takes time for would-be Vermonters to sell a house or find a job, so it takes patience but efforts are working, she said.
Killington’s Amy Laramie, director of communications, events, and special projects, said the resort hosts the reception because it “connects couples and families interested in moving to the region with community members, job opportunities, housing, outdoor recreation and more.” While Killington does not make a formal presentation, Laramie said some members of the management team attend the Saturday cocktail party to answer any questions and talk about the area. With attendees encouraged to tour on their own during the day, she said the program offers “a nice balance of free time and scheduled opportunities.”
Ski and state support
Communications Director Adam White said Ski Vermont partners with VDTM and VACCD to help promote the Stay-to-Stay Program, particularly the Stay-to-Stay Ski Weekends held at its member areas during the winter season.
Ski Vermont shared a table with VACCD at the Specialty Food Day event held in the Bromley base lodge during the area’s recent ski-stay weekend. Along with Haney, he handed out Stay-to-Stay brochures and answered questions from people interested in exploring a move to Vermont.
“We spoke to upward of two dozens individuals and couples who expressed their love of visiting Vermont and optimism about how great it would be to move to the state permanently.
“As someone who did just that [White moved to Vermont in 2006], after rekindling my love affair with the state through an annual ski trip, I never hesitate to tell people that it was among the very best life decisions I’ve ever made. The quality of life here is off the charts,” he added.
Noting Ski Vermont’s involvement with the program is “an excellent fit because so many potential transplants fall in love with the state’s mountains and ski areas,” he added that it “can also be beneficial to the ski areas because some of these people are interested in working within the industry. Staffing is a perpetual issue for ski areas, so any program that helps bring more potential employees into the fold is important and worthy of our cooperation,” White added.
Haney noted that she “had a small sign that said ‘Ask me about moving to Vermont’ and that’s what people did all day.” She also attended the welcome reception, where she spoke to the group for a few minutes regarding the relocation tools the state has to offer and invited attendees to contact her anytime with questions.
Noting she “had conversations with almost everyone there,” she said, “Several folks inquired about jobs. Others asked about businesses for sale, or residential care options for their aging parents, whom they would bring with them.”
Citing the success of the Bromley event and the value of concierge attention, Haney said Stay-to-Stay Weekends continue to expand.
“We are excited this year to hold new, employment sector-themed weekends. Our first will be a healthcare themed weekend in Rutland. The Rutland Chamber will be partnering with Rutland Regional Medical Center and the Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region to host a job fair for potential Vermonters who are healthcare professionals.
“There will be several more sector-themed weekends statewide throughout the year for manufacturing, tech, and hospitality/service professionals, and entrepreneurs,” Haney added, echoing Cohen’s comment that the program is working.