Vermont Governor Phil Scott on Wednesday signed a bill into law that will grant individuals working remotely for an out-of-state organization up to $10,000 to move there, as part of a suite of initiatives to improve the environment for digital work in the Green Mountain State and attract more residents.
The grant program, slated to begin next year, will be open to any full-time employee of a business domiciled outside Vermont who primarily works remotely from home or a coworking space, and will offer such workers up to $5,000 per year up to a total of $10,000 over the life of the program. These funds can be used to cover a range of expenses associated with moving to Vermont and setting up a remote work presence there, including relocation costs, computer software and hardware, broadband Internet access, and membership in a coworking space. The bill provides enough funding to cover as many as hundreds of these grants over the coming years, depending on the size of each grant, which would represent a significant number of new residents for a state with just under 624,000 people.
The law also instructs several state agencies to identify infrastructure improvements to better enable workers and businesses to establish a remote presence in Vermont, and to encourage the growth of coworking spaces, remote work hubs, maker spaces, and similar innovative work spaces. The state will also examine the potential for developing public-private digital work sites that will be available to both state employees and remote workers in the private sector. Finally, the law instructs agencies to submit recommendations for ensuring that broadband access is available in the downtown areas of Vermont’s municipalities to support these types of remote work venues.
The bill Scott signed on Wednesday is the latest in an ongoing series of efforts by Vermont’s government to cultivate its digital business environment: In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011, which caused extensive flooding in Vermont, the state’s rural development council used a portion of its federal disaster relief money to establish a digital economy program through which, among other things, any town in the state can set up a free public WiFi zone. It is also one of several states considering laws restricting the use of non-compete agreements; advocates of such bans say they enhance innovation and were a factor in the growth of California’s massive tech sector.
Like other largely rural states, Vermont faces an aging population and a shrinking tax base, Quartz’s Corinne Purtill points out. A popular tourist destination given its natural beauty, the state has also endeavored in recent years to persuade some of the millions of Americans who vacation there each year to move there through its “Stay to Stay Weekends” program, which gives visitors an opportunity to network with local employers, entrepreneurs, and real estate agents. Vermont’s innovative initiatives are just one of the many ways states, like employers, are upping their game to court scarce talent.