Watts: Keeping Young Vermonters

Apr 9, 2019

I asked a group of graduating college students their plans recently.

Most of them plan to choose where they want to live first, then look for the job. “I want to love where I live” Abby told me – as she works on moving to Portland Oregon.

Another said. “I’m headed to Denver, It’s close to the mountains.”

Others want to live in places where they can drive less and walk and bike more.

And several plan to stay in Vermont, because they love it here.

All this was on my mind when I recently heard former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, one of the 15 Democrats running for president so far, speak on a campaign stop in Vermont.

Among many topics, he described his state’s innovative approaches to attracting millennials

And millennials are moving to Colorado. Colorado Springs, for example, was named the top millennial destination in the US last year. And the Denver area took number three.

Hickenlooper said that Colorado’s success comes from thinking like a millennial – a broadly diverse cohort that is skeptical of institutions, tolerant and open-minded – and investing in things millennials care about - like music, art, and protecting the environment. And because many millennials want to drive less, they have a very strong interest in public transit systems.

Vermont’s demographic problem is big.

Recent data suggests we’re not only the oldest state on average but we have the lowest birth rates. So in-migration is apparently the only way we’ll grow. The state’s move to attract people with one-time financial incentives is a one very small step.

But it will take a big vision to really move the needle – to do things like expand a vibrant food and culture scene, invest in public places that are walkable and bikeable, and continue to protect our environment and rural landscapes – while at the same time building the kind of social infrastructure needed to make immigrants – including those from outside the US -- all newcomers to Vermont, feel truly welcome.

On the other hand, as a famous planner once said, “Make no little plans [for] they have no magic.”