Roper: $10,000 bribe undercuts the Vermont Brand

By Rob Roper

If I held up a cookie and said, “I’ll give you five bucks to eat this,” what would your initial reaction be? More than likely, either “what’s wrong with it,” or “what’s the catch?” If it were a perfectly good cookie, why would I have to pay you to eat it? If it were really good, you should be eager to pay me.

Rob Roper

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

This is a fundamental flaw in the Remote Worker Grant Program that offers to pay people $10,000 to move to Vermont and telecommute to jobs out of state. It actually devalues Vermont’s brand.

What’s more, the $500,000 budgeted for this over three years would, if entirely successful, only add 50 people to the workforce over that period. According to Gov. Scott, we need to add 1,000 new workers every year to replace the 16,000 workers we’ve lost since 2009. So, what do you say to the 15,950 workers who don’t get a check? And, more importantly, what do you think they’ll say back?

This gimmick may get a lot of people to look at Vermont. Do a search and you’ll see stories by the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, CNBC, Fortune, Forbes and many other sites you may or may not have heard of. But, as 1960s advertising guru Bill Bernbach said, “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.” So far that wisdom seems to be playing out as the stories mentioned above tend to focus on the negative aspects of why Vermont feels it needs to resort to such measures, our high taxes playing the lead role.

Vermont’s first priority needs to focus on making our underlying product genuinely valuable to the customer, without the gimmicks.

There has only been one time in modern history in which Vermont has attracted a large mass of people into the state on the scale Gov. Scott is hoping to do so: the hippie migration in the late 1960s and ’70s in which an estimated 40,000 mostly young people came here over a roughly decade-long period. What brought them here? Certainly, the stunning rural beauty and all it has to offer played a big part, just as it still does today. But, more fundamentally, they came because Vermont was cheap, and they were, for the most part, left alone to pursue happiness as they saw fit.

Lesson: if you want to attract a lot of young workers to our state, make Vermont a cheap place to put down roots, and leave people alone to pursue their ventures and create wealth — and keep it — free from a lot of official interference.

Vermont’s problem is that it has become one of the most expensive and difficult places to live for upwardly mobile, economically successful workers — the kind of people who pay taxes into the treasury, not draw them out. And it is governed by a bunch of busybodies who want to micromanage every aspect of your life, from the appliances you’re allowed to buy, to the types of electricity you’re allowed to use, to how you can contract for the work you do.

The Remote Worker Grant Program is absolutely right in one respect: its target audience. Vermont has a big advantage that many other rural states facing similar demographic problems in that we are within spitting distance of New York, a financial and entertainment capital, and Boston, a biotech and research capital filled with workers who can telecommute or relocate small businesses if they so choose.

Ask yourself, if you were a money manager, or a graphic designer, or a code writer, or use your imagination, who loves to ski, hike and bike, what would entice you to move your career from Stamford, Connecticut, to the mountains? Probably the same thing that motivated your big employer to move from Manhattan to Stamford in the 1990s — significantly lower taxes and cheaper, better, more abundant homes for your employees (in this case, you). So, here’s an idea: Lower taxes and reform regulations to make housing more plentiful and lower cost.

Another thing Vermont could do is make it easier to operate as an independent contractor, which is how many of these telecommuting jobs work. Unfortunately, reforming the regulations for independent contractors is something our Legislature has been more than reluctant to do.

These aren’t the only options, but lawmakers must to do something fundamental. When Massachusetts wanted to shed its “Taxachusetts” reputation to attract more wealth creators, its legislature first passed a 5 percent flat income tax. Only then did they advertise they were “open for business.” People took them seriously because they did something dramatic and relevant.

Vermont has to figure out what our dramatic and relevant action will be. Make it real. To quote Bill Bernbach one more time, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Before moving to Vermont in 1998 he was senior copywriter for Young & Rubicam Advertising, New York. He lives in Stowe.

Images courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR and Rob Roper

14 thoughts on “Roper: $10,000 bribe undercuts the Vermont Brand

  1. Alan Rousseau is so right, as is most of the comments on this opinion piece. The big question is: do ANY of those liberals and progressives read ANY of these comments? Does it move any of them to think? We need change and tax relief now. Keeping the status quo isn’t going to cut it.

  2. There are a lot of good discussion here, but it boils down to………..

    …..Are they OUT OF THEIR MINDS ? ? ?

  3. Moved out because of taxes. VT would have to pay me at least 10x that to even remotely consider returning. And then even then, it would only be after I’m living off my Roth retirement income.

    News flash! Word is out:

    Vermont is a beautiful state, but everyone I have spoken to the second or third comment is: Aren’t the taxes really high up there? Then after that it’s usually: It’s really cold, right?

    So the high taxes come after beauty and before cold….

    That should say enough right there. No $10,000 patch is going to plug the hole in the ship.

  4. Another point about thinking BIG. These lib/progs spend millions over the years creating the dwindling work force problem and believe they can solve it by allocating a paltry $166,000 a year over three years. It seems to me that the larger question is “how do these incompentents get reelected every cycle???”

  5. Suppose a family with 3 children comes to Vermont.

    Say the tele-commute job pays $70,000.

    That family would pay almost no state income taxes and no property and education taxes.

    But the education of the 3 children would be 3 x $20,000 = 60,000 per year

    The family would receive a bonus of $10,000 to make this scheme possible.

    The people who think up such money losing plans are seriously deranged.

  6. This typifies the legislature in a nut shell. They believe they are thinking big with a half milion dollas to enlarge an already shrinking work force. Hello!! As Rob so rightly points out this “big” idea if successful, which is debatable will bring in an overwhelming FIFTY people. WOW!! Come on guys wake up and get real.

  7. This $10k boondoggle is such a pathetic attempt to lure people to what ” was ” a Fine State.

    As soon as anyone interested in coming to VT and they do a little investigation on the cost
    of living ( Nope ) moving on. If you’re a Business Person and look at the regulations ( Nope)
    moving on. So you take the bait $10K now try and find a place to live (rent ) un-affordable
    try to buy a house, property tax out of control ( Thanks ) NEA.

    As long as we have a tax, tax, tax everything to try and fund the unfunded liabilities that are
    never going to end, with a state house full of Progressive Liberals controlling these endeavors
    well we are where we are ………………. Pretty Sad

    Montpelier might as well ” Flush ” the $10k or the total package $500k now !!

  8. Vermont needs to lift or reverse every state tax, law, rule and regulation since the 1970s but it will not as shown they dont learn from their mistakes only try to develop and impose creative but bad new taxes, laws, rules and regulation making life impossible for the locals, chasing away business and keeping out any new big business.

  9. If the business climate and cost of living is so bad we need to bribe the young 10’000$ to move or stay here it’s time to fix both before theres no one younger then 65. In one rating i saw VT. was 4th out of 50 worst business climate with Cal.#1 and NY#2. Ask yourself why are so many green plates at NH. West Leb malls? Why N Y. Sales tax free days choke roads across the lake? Who’s going to pay the taxes once we chase employers out?

  10. Some fantastic points here. We can’t homestead in Vermont, it’s too difficult and there is no possible way, it’s not permitted, anywhere. I turn away young people all the time, many are not looking for make a fortune, we just want a simple life, but Vermont makes it literally impossible and then unaffordable.

    Traditionally Vermont had so many great ways to get people on their feet and moving up the ladder which are again no longer allowed. Boarding homes? Nope. Easy mobile home living, Nope. In 1968 the passed regulation that pretty much outlawed any mobile homes, 2 or more on a lot triggered Act 250, a state wide planning process. Farmers didn’t have it easy after that.

    If you want your Mc Mansion in Vermont it’s pretty easy. If you want an affordable life style, focused on the more important things in life, family, God, healthy eating, a green lifestyle Vermont makes it nearly impossible.

  11. It’s even more flawed than you mention if you read the fine print. Start at its up to $10K not automatic. How they will get it is not yet spelled out but left to an existing State Department to come up with. No mention of who in that department will admin the program or how they will be paid for, if I were a betting man Iwould wager they will have to hire another state employee. So kiss another what $50K good bye from the finds the source of which appears to be the general fund. In addition to determining the rules and regs they will also determine the progress of as yet to be named measurements of success. I guess that is one way to insure success let those attemptingbto be successful determine what that means. Know where do I see a guideline for what this program seeks to achieve. I would think having the recipients still be here in 5 years would have been a worthy goal. I doubt seriously after a year of struggling in our tax heavy economy they will not be. All to often VT government creates laws and is institutions make rules in the same fasion. Case example VPA rules on sports that limit certain activities with no pre-knowledge of the scope of the supposed problem, and no recording of any post rule data to measure effectiveness of the newly imposed rules. No business can operate in this manner and for sure no government can.

    • As a former VTRANS employee of 30 years I saw a lot of change and most while well intended had many unintended consequences. As most agency’s the guys in the garages (the ones who really maintain the roads) got fewer as the paper pushers multiplied. Some with 20 or more years exspearance and knew how and just did it now had to have some bureaucrat with no common sense plan, draw up and document. The move to computer in each garage was billed as “no more paper” but ended up as fill out the paper and then the forman spent time he should have been on the job key punching into computer. Just changing the old Aot.logo on all signs and equipment cost 2.5 million.Too heavy at the top and to light bottom. I bet you could fire half of Montpellier and No one would miss them. Even the Secretarys have secretarys. I’ve been in many agencys up there and the only one that looked busy was DMV.

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