By Katy Savage
RUTLAND—Gov. Phil Scott emphasized the need to reverse Vermont’s declining population trend during a legislative breakfast at the Franklin Conference Center on Monday, March 12.
“For years we’ve seen, on average, six fewer workers in our workforce, three fewer kids in K-12, and — c ertainly the most concerning — nearly one baby born to addiction. Every. Single. Day,” Scott said in his speech before about 150 people.
The need to expand the workforce is especially apparent in Rutland.
Rutland, home to several manufacturing companies, has a 3.2 percent unemployment rate, officials said.
“We need a deeper pool of valuable well-trained employees to satisfy the demand,” said Rutland Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Lyle Jepson, as he mentioned several companies in need of employees.
While the state launched a “Think Vermont” marketing campaign this past fall to bring more workers and more families to Vermont, Rutland and area towns simultaneously launched a digital marketing campaign called Real Rutland.
Real Rutland began about six months ago. It focuses on outdoor activity, quality of life and job opportunity in Rutland and beyond.
“Our main goal is to reverse the declining population trend,” said Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Cohen. Another goal of the campaign to “dispel the myth that there are no jobs,” she said.
The campaign has a website that allows people to ask questions. Cohen said some website visitors have asked about Rutland’s drug problem — something that’s been highly talked and written about in the media. “To us, that’s old news,” Cohen said. “We are no different than any other small community.”
The campaign is supported by area towns. On Town Meeting Day, the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce and Rutland Economic Development Corp. asked voters to contribute $1 per resident toward the $200,000 digital marketing campaign.
More than 12 area towns voted and raised about $38,000 toward the budget on Town Meeting, officials said. Businesses and donors contributed to the rest of the budget, said Cohen. Officials plan to ask more voters in more towns for money next year.
Cohen said the campaign is a success so far, with about 2 million impressions on social media.
Officials began planning the 10-year marketing plan two years ago. They started the initiative to target millennials in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Now the campaign has expanded to attract Baby Boomers as well. The organizers hope to significantly grow Vermont’s population within 10 years.
Besides marketing efforts, Scott further proposed utilizing the Department of Labor to recruit and match employees to workforce needs.
Scott has also proposed items he said will make Vermont more affordable, he said on Monday. Scott said he’d reduce or remove taxes, spread out the state’s hefty education budget and focus on rehabilitating downtowns.
Jepson said a number of the governor’s initiatives were underway in Rutland.
Another legislative breakfast was scheduled for June in Rutland.