The little town of Chester has heard the stories about out-of-staters buying Vermont real estate these past few months. In response, administrators there started a marketing campaign to let would-be Vermonters know that the Windsor County community a nice place to settle down.
When the pandemic first hit the United States, things got bad down in New Jersey where Patti Goyette was living with her family. Goyette was looking for a change, and she cast her net pretty widely to see what kind of jobs were out there.
“We actually were presented with several job opportunities the same day, taking us to various parts of the country,” she said. “And Vermont just was a better option for us based on community size, demographics and school system. That was an important choice for us with a 2-and-a-half year old, and imagining her future and what education will look like for her.”
Goyette says the pandemic caused her to question the type of life she wanted for her family. So she narrowed her job choices down to Richmond, Virginia, and Chester, Vermont, and from her laptop back in New Jersey, Chester seemed like the better choice.
“Our number one priority was quality of life,” Goyette said. “You know, things that we could do as a family, was very important. And Chester definitely outweighed Virginia at that point.”
Bloomberg News reported this week that Vermont leads the nation when looking at the percent of people moving into the state compared to those moving out.
An ongoing UVM study is also finding that more than a third of the people who came here at the start of the pandemic are planning to stay.
And so towns across Vermont are noticing.
“I don’t ever want to say that a pandemic is an opportunity, because I don’t feel that way," said Chester Town Manager Julie Hance. "But I do think that now is the time that we need to start getting ourselves out there."
Hance just asked her town's select board to spend $10,000 on a marketing campaign targeting COVID refugees.
Chester, a small town of about 3,000, is mainly known for its historic stone buildings, and proximity to many of southern Vermont's ski mountains. And if you go to the town’s business website, you’ll find information about the town’s “blazing fast” internet and walkable downtown.
Now marketing to potential newcomers is nothing new, but Hance says Chester is tweaking its message during the pandemic.
“We’ve been dabbling with it for a couple of years, but then COVID hit,” said Hance. “And so we just decided, 'You know what, now is the time to start this.' We need to really market Chester, not just for tourism... but really to really draw people here. This is a community that you can be, and move your family to.”
Springfield Regional Development Corporation executive director Bob Flint has been working with Chester on the marketing campaign, and he said the people who are moving to the state could help the economy in the long term.
“I think the state is going to have a positive economic impact from the influx of capital and people that we’re seeing at the moment,” Flint said.
He added that Windsor County is facing all of the same demographic challenges that the rest of Vermont sees, and he could fill dozens of jobs in his region if he had the bodies.
Letting folks from out of state know about Chester, and all the area has to offer, probably won’t fill all those jobs.
But, Flint says, it’s not a bad strategy either.
“Are we going to solve workforce by bringing in people from out of state? No," he said. "But, yes, what Chester’s doing with its marketing is a piece of the puzzle."
Flint says whatever good comes out of Chester’s work will hopefully help out as the region eventually recovers from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
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