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Vermonters, Home is Calling

Massachusetts officials have long worried that the cost of living here is pushing young professionals out of the state. North Carolina, Colorado, and California are the most popular destinations. Now Vermont is looking to join that list.

The neighbor to the north is trying to lure back its native sons and daughters who left home for opportunities in the Bay State. WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports on a recent recruiting event in Boston.

TEXT OF STORY:

CURT NICKISCH: Mike Quinn is trying to spice up Vermont's economy with finger food.

SOUND OF HIP MUSIC CLUB

NICKISCH: He's nibbling on a bacon-wrapped scallop in a waterfront club in the North End. Some people here are drinking cocktails — but not Quinn. He's working. He's Vermont's economic development commissioner, and he bussed down seventeen employers from his state and rented this place for the shindig.

MIKE QUINN: We hold it in this place because this is a place that our target audience frequents. And the best place to talk to your customer is where your customer is.

NICKISCH: Quinn's customer is between 27 and 35 years old. From Vermont originally. But left for opportunity. Someone like twenty-something Liz, who just walked in the door.

LIZ: I was so surprised when I got an e-mail that Vermont was recruiting in Boston. I was like, really? Wow?!

NICKISCH: Like many before her, Liz left Vermont after college to start her career. She doesn't want to give her last name because she doesn't want her employer in Boston's financial services industry know she's looking elsewhere. But Liz says she's tired of city life.

LIZ: A lot of people like to sit and look out on the view of the financial district and say oh isn't that beautiful? And I'm like, no not really, I'd rather look at mountains, you know.

NICKISCH: That's why she and a few dozen others came here, to meet with employers from the Green Mountain State who are hiring. One of them is Dale Williamson. She's in charge of human resources at database company, and she's got good jobs open. But Williamson says it's hard when she has to tell web programmer prospects they'd have to give up a six-figure salary to work for $60,000 a year in Vermont.

DALE WILLIAMSON: You know the real challenge is how do you woo them back to an area that traditionally doesn't pay as high as the Boston area, and it's difficult for people to imagine changing their lifestyle to accommodate that.

NICKISCH: That's why the state feels it's got its best shot with former Vermonters, who have family and sentimental ties. Unless some come back, the state's economy could be in trouble.

QUINN: The specter is not a good one.

NICKISCH: During a break from the Boston event, economic development commissioner Mike Quinn says Vermont is getting older, and it's hard to attract innovative companies with good jobs, without the young, skilled workers those companies crave. Quinn says he needs just a few good Vermonters.

QUINN: Fixing our demographic shift is not measured in the tens of thousands of people from Generation X. Fifteen hundred a year for the next 10 or 15 years will get us a long way towards where we need to be and will help support a sustainable, long-term economic vitality in the state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, we gotta getcha up to Vermont. We'd love to have you, bring you home!

LIZ: Yeah, me too!

NICKISCH: Of those who showed up at this event in the North End, Liz seems most inclined to move back home. As long as it doesn't cost her her career.

LIZ: I don't want to rush and take a job as a chair lift operator just to get up there. Not that that's bad. (LAUGHS) Free ski pass! I want to be able to have a good job and a good quality of life.

QUINN: Hello everybody, can I interrupt the revelry?

NICKISCH: Later, Vermont economic development commissioner Mike Quinn draws names for the door prize: it's a snowboard from Burton, a Vermont company.

QUINN: How about Liz? (THEN SILENCE)

NICKISCH: But Liz has already gone home. She's got to work tomorrow, after all, and wants to sleep on the pay cut she'd take leaving Boston, for the payoff of moving back home to Vermont.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on February 12, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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