This July, a new piece of legislation will take effect, encouraging more remote workers to remain in or move to the state of Vermont. While Vermont had the highest rate of inbound migration in 2017, they saw mostly older and wealthier families moving to the state to retire. They have had less luck attracting young job seekers, who have been leaving to pursue employment opportunities elsewhere. Zenefits sits down with the author of the bill, Vermont Senator Virginia Lyons, on how she’s promoting remote work.
“I was hoping to accomplish a couple of things with this bill. One was to encourage young people who are computer savvy to stay in the state and work remotely [if their hiring entity is located elsewhere]. The second thing this bill could help accomplish is drawing people into the state,” says Sen. Lyons. She explains that if there are future job opportunities available at businesses outside Vermont, those applying to these jobs may not feel the same pressure to move away. In fact, it would be in these companies’ best interest to hire those remote workers.
Bill S. 94, deemed the ThinkVermont Innovation Initiative, is meant to support small businesses, attract young professionals, and energize the local economy. The main financial incentive offered to businesses will be the possibility to receive micro-grants of up to $10,000 per remote employee hired, as long as that employee is stationed in Vermont. These grants are mainly intended for businesses located outside the State of Vermont, though local businesses may also apply.
The bill states that it was, “created to respond to the growth needs of Vermont small businesses with 20 or fewer employees by funding innovative strategies that accelerate small business growth.” The other goal is to, “enable the State to invest in projects with grants that can be accessed more quickly and with fewer restrictions than traditional federal initiatives.”
The bill is intended for all types of businesses, including non-profit and for-profit organizations. To be eligible for either of the financial benefits, projects must meet at least one of the below criteria. A project must:
Senator Lyons started writing this bill two years ago after a conversation with her son-in-law, who is a remote worker living in Vermont. “He had moved to Vermont and he is a remote worker,” says Lyons, “ so I asked him what it would take to encourage more remote work in our state. He started to list some of the ideas that might attract more remote workers, then I went out and did my own qualitative research, which involved surveying others about what they might want as remote workers in Vermont.” The most common responses to the survey were robust internet service, child care, health benefits, and tax benefits. This was the basis of S.94, which ended up focusing mostly on the financial incentives and benefits, in the form of federal tax credits and state grants.
To address the issue of robust internet service, Sen. Lyons identified excess internet capacity with one of Vermont’s transmission companies and is looking into that as a source to provide internet to some of the local hubs and developing coworking stations, bringing the state up-to-speed with broadband telecommunications connectivity, and focusing on becoming more competitive with the tech industries across other areas of the nation.
When she began drafting the proposal, Lyons said this was something completely unheard of in other states. “This is something that is unique to Vermont right now, but I do see it becoming a trend.”
However, before other rural states potentially begin offering these financial incentives, there are a few things to consider. Lyons wants to ensure that the paperwork to locate and hire remote workers is not overwhelming for companies and that corporate income taxes are not enough to dissuade those from applying for the grants.
“Those are the two concerns I have in building a pathway for remote workers while being careful to not put barriers up to the companies that would like to encourage remote work from our state. And these issues will be in the next bill I’ll be working on.”
The ThinkVermont Innovation Initiative was signed this past Wednesday, May 30th, and will take effect July 1st, 2018.