The Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce wraps up another year of Vermont’s Stay To Stay Program this December with over 200 families registered, 50 plus people participating in Zoom meetings and 8 families moving to Southwestern Vermont.
“From those connections, we’ve had 6-8 families move to the region,” said Matt Harrington, Executive Director of the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce. “That’s huge. Those 6-8 families in small communities can influence select boards, school boards, volunteerism and small businesses.”
“What’s more,” Harrington continued, “is that when we recently surveyed this year’s participants, more than 40% of the 200 indicated they are an 8, 9, or 10 on the scale of ‘ready to move here’ which means they’re really close to moving here!”
The Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM) developed the Stay to Stay initiative in 2018 as part of the Scott Administration’s strategy to attract more working families and young professionals to Vermont to address the State’s declining workforce. The Southwestern Vermont Chamber was a pilot location for the original program and has been a partner ever since.
“In 2018, then VDTM Commissioner, Wendy Knight, called me up and said ‘I’ve got a crazy idea,” recalled Harrington, “why don’t we leverage the national marketing reach of the department to invite people from all over the country to visit Vermont for a weekend with the express purpose of convincing them to live here for a lifetime.”
Prior to the program, Vermont was seeing a declining population, an aging workforce, low unemployment, and employers struggling to find employees. Based on the findings of the 2019 Southern Vermont Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Plan (CEDS), the shrinking and aging population in Southern Vermont was having a considerable impact on the economy. An issue that was impacting much of rural America, Southern Vermont was not alone in trying to reverse this trend, and needed to leverage its ability to act regionally and step forward with competitive regional solutions.
Harrington adds, “Southwestern Vermont was in particularly rough shape economically at the time and it also had an aging workforce and no new blood replacing those retiring. We thought, well, we don’t really have an option here do we – we have to jump at the opportunity. Four years and a global pandemic later, I think Southwestern Vermont alone has talked to over 300 families, created weekends for over 75 participants and we’ve probably seen at least a few dozen families move to this region because of the program.”
For the Stay To Stay Weekends the participating areas would “roll out the red carpet” for people that came through a form on the Vermont tourism website. The aim was to convert tourists who already enjoyed visiting Vermont into full-time residents.
Weekends began with a Friday evening reception hosted by the Southwestern Vermont Chamber and partnering lodging properties including the Four Chimneys Inn. The Friday reception welcomed Stay To Stay travelers with 25-30 local stakeholders joining them including select board members, downtown program directors, young professionals, chamber board members and more to welcome them to town. Saturday and Sunday offered opportunities to explore the region and get a glimpse into living in the community. On Monday, participants started their morning with a Coffee and Conversations program at the Chamber and later met with employers, realtors, schools and incubators before they headed back home.
The program and the Southwestern Vermont Chamber were a feature on NBC’s “Nightly News with Lester Holt” in 2018.
The COVID-19 pandemic stopped the weekend visits in 2020 and 2021, however the Southwestern Vermont partners continued the program with monthly Zoom meetings for participants from around the country to learn more about the area. Private one-on-one calls and meetings also occurred in an effort to guide people and help them make the final decision to move to Vermont. A partnership with the Vermont Department of Labor and regional representatives quickly connected participants with job opportunities and relocation initiatives.
“It is part of our job to help attract young people and families to the region, retain a modern and growing workforce, and support a more diverse population,” says Harrington. “We believe a targeted, highly nimble program like Stay To Stay continues to be necessary as we see new families and workers eyeing Vermont.”
Additionally, the area has seen an increase in diversity because of the program. As Southwestern Vermont communities continue to grow, the Chamber says it’s important to harness the talent of all Vermonters so that businesses can capitalize on the growth of women, people of color, and the LGTBQ community in the labor force.
Harrington continues, “The potential to increase diversity, through recruitment and retention efforts like Stay To Stay, is a great opportunity for Southwestern Vermont and all of Vermont to become more competitive in the global economy with the unique talents and contributions that diverse communities bring.”
Cristina Perez Ayala Cano, 32, from Monterrey, Mexico made her journey to The Shires of Southwestern Vermont this summer because of the program and has since moved to Bennington, Vermont. She made the move with her husband, David Morelos Zaragoza and their german shepherd dog, Bagheera. Through a variety of interactions with the Chamber and other partners, Cristina finally landed a job as the Assistant Director of Admissions at Bennington College. Cristina has embraced the local community by volunteering for this year’s Garlic Town, USA event and attending young professional activities.
“Vermont became our top state because we were looking for a community that could be nurturing and where we could thrive,” says Perez Ayala Cano. “The Stay to Stay program helps to both promote all that Vermont has to offer, as well as assist you on arrival, and weave you into that social fabric that makes Vermont, and in our case Bennington, a place we now call home.”
To learn more about the Stay To Stay program visit: https://thinkvermont.com/stay-to-stay/