Is Vermont Facing an Identity Crisis?

A Recap of the Next Generation Luncheon hosted by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce

It’s no secret that the average age of Vermonters is rising, while the state’s population numbers remain stagnant. Millennials in the U.S. make up 25% of the population, and in Vermont make up 21% of the voting population. As Burlington continues to make “cool and desirable” city lists touted by CNN and other media organizations, we are still left wondering how to attract and keep businesses and young professionals alike.

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The Vermont Chamber of Commerce tackled this topic last week when they hosted a “Next Generation Luncheon” at their annual Business and Industry Expo, and invited members of the Vermont Young Professionals Board, as well as members and business leaders, to participate in the discussion. Designed to foster conversation between businesses and young emerging leaders, the format allowed attendees at each table to discuss their thoughts on what will bring more youth to Vermont and what can be done to stop the anecdotal “brain drain”. 

The luncheon featured a panel of three young professionals, including VYP Board Member Molly Hall, and was facilitated by Kristin Carlson of Green Mountain Power. After lunch round table discussions were led by Vermont Business Magazine’s Rising Stars award recipients. 

Some of the ideas about what the state could do to attract and retain young professionals that were repeated among the table facilitators:

  • Vermont must address infrastructure concerns and the high cost of living that young professionals struggle with.
  • Businesses need to grow and evolve to accommodate emerging trends not only in the work place but in their benefits structure. 
  • Local universities should also be encouraging young professionals to stay and live here, and provide better placement and match-making services. 

The state needs to adopt and spend money promoting a consistent brand and message that not only promotes the state as a great place to visit, but a great place to do business. 

The conversation in the room took an interesting turn when the question was asked, “is Vermont in the midst of an identity crisis?”

Our beautiful state is identified by its rolling green mountains, gnarly ski slopes and our natural resources are beyond compare – our Tourism and Marketing Department shouts these images and message from those same mountain tops in their campaigns directed at visitors. Our elected officials and Governor Shumlin made it clear to the rest of the country this legislative session that we are, in fact, a tech-hub and start-up friendly place to do business by eliminating tax collection on cloud services. So, is Vermont the ideal four season vacation spot or the emerging tech-hub of the northeast? Is there a way the state and businesses can work together to market both of those messages in unison in an effort to attract new talent and commerce?

Conclusions from the next generation luncheon alluded to the fact that the state can and in fact should do just that. New and existing businesses need to embrace both of Vermont’s personas to attract and retain a younger workforce. Why? Because both of those personas are important to emerging leaders. How? By making small changes to the business and office environment to attract employees who desire to be part of both the business and community culture here. From doing simple things like touting the great things about Vermont in interviews with potential hires that go beyond the green mountains, to dismissing the myth that we are a small state with small opportunities. Millennials invented social media, they've helped move social political milestones to the forefront successfully; we are a generation that is looking for constant and instant feedback and we’re a generation of community. Businesses should create a culture profile, and can do so by: 

  • Creating programs that help new employees find housing, and try to attract employees who desire Vermont’s lifestyle. 
  • Help add value and perspective to employee’s lives by encouraging volunteering and community participation; 
  • Letting employees know that what they are doing adds value to the organization. Millennials live in a world of instant feedback.

To understand Vermont’s identity (current and future) is to understand millennials and emerging technology businesses alike; their drivers, motivation, desires and goals. Businesses need to adapt, change and cultivate a culture that will not only attract these young professionals, but retain them and allow them to flourish. The state needs to keep in mind these same principles when considering tax and regulatory changes in Montpelier. Millennials are the future not only of Vermont, but the country, representing one-third of the total U.S. population in 2013, and 21% of the voting population in Vermont.

 

Jessica Gingras

Vermont Young Professionals 

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