In 2018, Vermont’s farms and economy lay in shambles, devastated by regulations. But a new, and unexpected boost has come from people flocking to the state to find refuge from the COVID-19, riots, and looting plaguing big cities. Now the state is trying to cope with the influx of new people, and the uncertainty of whether or not they’ll stay, or go back to the cities when COVID-19 worries dissipate. Jon Kamp writes in The Wall Street Journal:
The pandemic gave Vermont a jolt, as residents from other states migrated to the Green Mountains in search of a pastoral refuge with relatively low rates of Covid-19 infections. Now the challenge for the rural, aging state is keeping the momentum going.
Newcomers say Vermont’s management of the pandemic, its leading vaccination rate, open spaces and the promise of outdoorsy activities were all part of the appeal. State officials want to capitalize on the influx but are unsure on whether part-time newcomers will stay and yet-more people flood in as life returns to normal.
“That’s the gazillion-dollar question,” said Joan Goldstein, commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Economic Development. “There’s no way to foresee what are people going to do once the pandemic’s over.”
In an effort to keep movers coming, lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that would continue some state-funded programs that offer qualified people several thousand dollars after they relocate.
Vermont has long struggled to offset the effects of residents who leave the state and a graying population. The state’s median age of 42.8 years is among the oldest in the nation, and the number of working-age adults has been shrinking, federal data show. Vermont, which has a 2.9% unemployment rate—far below the 6.1% national rate—needs more workers for both private-sector and state jobs, lawmakers say.
Covid-19 shook things up, at least temporarily. Permanent-address-change data from the U.S. Postal Service show Vermont had a net inflow of 692 households in 2020, up from 112 in 2019. The year before that, the state posted a net outflow of 214 households.
The federal data might understate the surge, as figures from the state tax department show residential property sales to out-of-state buyers jumped by more than 1,000 last year, a gain of 38% from 2019, with a heavy concentration in and around ski destinations. At the same time, the amount out-of-staters spent on homes soared 79% to $1.43 billion, in keeping with the buying frenzy seen around the U.S.
“Demand is going through the roof,” said Jennifer Beckett, a Vermont Realtor, with available homes often racking up multiple offers and selling over the asking price.
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