Paying People to Move Here is Still Not Good Policy

March 21, 2019

by Rob Roper

A recent headline boasted, “Attracted by the promise of $10,000, new workers start arriving in Vermont.” Great. How many? Eighteen. Forty-seven when you include the non-working family members who tagged along. The article goes on, “Acknowledging the success of the program, Gov. Phil Scott’s administration proposed that the state spend $1 million in the coming year….” Wait a minute. The success of the program? By what metric?

The governor has said in the past that we need to attract 10,000 new workers a year to replace what we are losing. This program, at ridiculous expense, scraped up eighteen. Only 9,982 to go! How is that a success? It’s pathetic in more ways than one.

But, worse than this failure of numbers, is the damage this program will do to Vermont’s brand over the long term. In his best selling book on leadership, Start with Why, Simon Sinek offers a cautionary tale from General Motors. In the 1990s, facing lots of competition and losing customers, GM started a program of offering “cash back” incentives to buy their cars — anywhere from $500 to $7000. But, in the 2000s, GM realized that this approach was fiscally unsustainable. They were losing money, so “GM announced it would reduce the amount of the cash-back incentives it would offer, and with that reduction, sales plummeted. No cash, no customers.”

This is exactly what Vermont is doing with this poorly considered program. If the message you are sending is that Vermont is a place we have to pay you to come live, ultimately the lesson you’re teaching the world is “don’t move to Vermont without a check.” And, no way, no how can we afford to write these checks to all the people we need to come and/or stay. This is an even less sustainable business model for Vermont than it was for GM.

Sinek’s point was to illustrate the difference between manipulation and inspiration. GM tried to manipulate its customers with a gimmick, but that’s not a long-term winning strategy. True success – real leadership – comes from building a brand that people aspire to be a part of without the gimmicks.

We will always be able to count the number of people brought into the state through a government program (even numbers as small as 18), but it’s not as easy to count the number of people who don’t move to Vermont because they didn’t get their $10,000 bucks. Or would never move to a state so unattractive they had to pay you to live there. Or those who leave because they feel like paying full freight in a state that uses their tax dollars to bribe outsiders to come in is a rip-off only a fool would sit still for.

They’re saying this program is a success? I’ll ask again: by what metric?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Cunningham March 22, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Great point Rob.

We do have a lot going for us in Vermont, despite our issues. In an analogy, we are the “Apple” brand. Apple doesn’t pay people to use its products, nor does it discount, partly because it knows doing so would cheapen the brand.

Reply

K C Miller March 24, 2019 at 5:18 pm

Dan – Your “apple” is more akin to the product called “Zune” by Microsoft. I grew up in Vermont but you couldn’t pay me that pittance, nor double or triple to return. You tax the hard working people to give to the undeserving, even Social Security Benefits that were long ago earned and stolen by the Federal government. Your ‘product’ is a failure just like the Zune and your features are weak and unimpressive when compared to virtually every other option across the country. You are taxing yourself out of existence. Good luck.

Reply

Peg C. March 31, 2019 at 3:25 pm

KC, My husband and I are, (were) born and raised in VT, as many prior generations of our families, but there is not enough money to EVER bring us back. When common sense was vanishing and the socialist agenda was moving in fast and furious we felt trapped. We still watch and listen to what is happening, and are relieved we left many years ago. There is a ravenous feeding frenzy of the socialists in Vermont to devour all that is not of the same mindset. If they can’t convince you to come to their “tent,” they will work to destroy you, hence the $15 min. wage nonsense, that will destroy Vermont’s small business community. “Stupid is as stupid does.”–Forrest Gump

Reply

Ted Robinson March 22, 2019 at 11:32 pm

The “apple” that is Vermont is full of worms. Those worms are the liberal progressives in Montpelier. Until the voters of this state come to their senses they will oppress, infringe, and tax. Wake up voters.

Reply

K H March 23, 2019 at 3:24 pm

The bottom line is that it is just too expensive to live in Vermont. Especially for young professionals trying to establish. Housing costs alone are prohibitive.

Reply

Dan Cunningham March 25, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Folks, to clarify. I agree that the state is expensive and heavily regulated and much improvement can be made on that front. My point here was that putting out a highly visible promotion can create a sense of desperation and cheapness, as Rob was saying.

We do have a lot of strengths, and there are many people who want to move and live here. If we can lower the costs to do so in a long-term, systematic way we’ll see the demographics organically change.

One of the ways you can tell that people want to be here is that even people who leave continue to follow Vermont, because they have nostalgia for it. If they didn’t care they would not be following our news.

Reply

Cynthia Beaudette March 25, 2019 at 3:15 pm

Our Town had an “entity” which employed over 150 people, causing renewed interest for the investment in the entire downtown and the infusions of millions of dollars. The State, which should hold itself partly responsible for the temporary financial difficulties which ensued, decided to come down hard and closed this Godsend to our area for nonpayment of taxes rather than assist getting a worthwhile project costing millions already spent off the ground for the benefit of an entire town and the State long term.

Reply

Steve Jackson March 26, 2019 at 3:04 pm

It would be more productive for the state or town to offer a discount on future business taxes that don’t yet exist than to spend tax money that has already been collected. A new business would bring numerous jobs with taxable incomes while the current $10,000 bribe only brings one.

Reply

Peg C. March 31, 2019 at 3:28 pm

KC, My husband and I (were) born and raised in VT, as many prior generations of our families, but there is not enough money to EVER bring us back. When common sense was vanishing and the socialist agenda was moving in fast and furious we felt trapped. We still watch and listen to what is happening, and are relieved we left many years ago. There is a ravenous feeding frenzy of the socialists in Vermont to devour all that is not of the same mindset. If they can’t convince you to come to their “tent,” they will work to destroy you, hence the $15 min. wage nonsense, that will destroy Vermont’s small business community. “Stupid is as stupid does.”–Forrest Gump

Reply

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