Over the Christmas holiday, I spent time with a friend (who lives in San Francisco) while she was on her annual pilgrimage home to see her family.
I got the chance to visit her in California early in 2018 and now that I’ve seen where she lives, with the gorgeous landscape and milder temperature and the multitude of things to do there on any given night … well, I can see why she likes it there.
This Christmas, I asked her what it would take to get her, a Hoosier-born and educated expatriate (she attained her Ph.D. last year and works in STEM), to come back home to live and work.
It didn’t take her long to come up with a list: A shift to more progressive policies and politics. A culture shift for people to be more open and accepting of others. A more walkable city and outlying areas. Mass transit. More ways to be entertained. “Five Bluebeards on each street,” she said, referencing the hip eatery in Fountain Square where we’ve previously dined.
There are places in the city and areas where that vibrancy exists. But not enough of it, she said.
I mentioned the great life sciences and technology job market we have here. And how affordable it is to live here. And that there are a lot of things to do within a few hours’ drive (which is often the case for her in California), or even some of the natural elements she loves of the West Coast. We don’t have mountains or an ocean, but we have plenty of hiking trails and the Great Lakes beachfront!
I’ll continue trying to beat the drum for her to come back here one day and give her many talents to this state.
But this is not an uncommon issue – and it’s one that we’re going to focus on in the next edition of BizVoice® in a roundtable discussion with state leaders on the idea of how to bring talented Hoosier graduates back home. Keep an eye out for that in our March-April edition.
It’s also an issue that states around the country are trying to tackle. A Stateline article from the Pew Trusts outlines the case for paying people – not companies – to relocate. The article highlights Vermont, Oklahoma, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota all trying various tactics, including providing help with housing costs, student loan assistance programs, reaching people through tourism efforts and more.
“It’s a departure — very much a sharp departure” from Vermont’s traditional programs, said Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development. “We need people.”
The shift in strategy marks a recognition that as fewer people are tethered to brick-and-mortar offices, state and local officials can reap the benefits of workers’ spending and taxes no matter where their employers are based.
“You need the people to get the businesses to come, and a lot of small places are immediately out of the running because the people aren’t there. It feeds on itself,” said Doug Farquhar, program director for rural development with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Farquhar sees “pay to move” as “somewhat of a desperate plea: We need educated people to come here and stay here.” He cautions that little research has been done on the effectiveness or sustainability of the strategy. And in Vermont, some advocates for the poor have criticized state officials for “luring tech bros to gentrify our communities.”
But in a state that is desperate for more people — Vermont has about 620,000 residents, with about 45 percent of them retired or about to retire — officials are willing to give it a try.
“The original idea was to give incentives to out-of-state companies to find people who want to live here,” said Democratic state Sen. Michael Sirotkin, chairman of the economic development committee. “We decided to give the money to the workers and let them find their jobs.”
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed the Remote Worker Grant Program in May. The legislature provided $500,000 over three years to reimburse expenses of remote workers from other states who relocate.
Each worker can receive up to $10,000 in grants over two years. Eligible expenses include computer software and hardware, internet access and membership in a coworking space.