Choosing Vermont: Voices Of The State's Young Professionals

Aug 21, 2014

For VPR's Choosing Vermont series, young professionals from across the state shared their thoughts on living in (or leaving) Vermont. Eight voices were heard on-air, but countless more wrote in to tell us their stories.

We asked that interviewees simply share their individual experiences. We followed up the series with a conversation with Economic Development Commissioner Lisa Gosselin.

We expect to follow up on this series, and hear from more of Vermont’s young professionals.

Regional challenges

The types of issues interviewees mentioned largely depended on where they lived. Renters in the Burlington area overwhelmingly cited the city's housing market as a frustration.

Ben Bonaccio, 26, said the low vacancy rate in Burlington’s apartment rentals makes finding adequate housing a challenge.

“It's really tricky,” Bonaccio said. “The cost of living is exorbitant compared to some other comparable places. I mean, I love being here, but that's definitely a struggle. If we could have a better vacancy rate, better housing options, more affordable housing options, I think that would draw more young people to the area and keep a lot more young people here.”

A Burlington listener who preferred to remain anonymous wrote that after moving to Vermont from a Midwestern city, he was shocked at the cost of rental housing. He was also struck by the focus on environmentalism. He wrote that it can be a bit much.

“I’m going out on a limb here, but sometimes the organic eco-friendly culture that dominates Vermont can be annoying. Although I participate in this mindset and enjoy that about Vermont, some people are snooty about it and shame others for not being as ‘enlightened’ as they are.”  -Anonymous

Another young worker who asked to remain anonymous said she tried to settle in Rutland, but the lack of housing and amenities made it unattractive.

“While I love the people in Rutland, there are many reasons I could not make it my home,” she wrote. “I tried very hard, but I could not attain the lifestyle I wanted there. There is a serious lack of inspiring, affordable apartments and houses in Rutland to attract young, sophisticated working professionals and creatives.”

Meanwhile, in more rural parts of the state, interviewees spoke about the lack of public transportation, unreliable broadband access and more limited opportunities for socializing.

Jenna Pugliese is a 32-year-old homeowner living near Stratton, Vermont. She described life in a ski town as isolating, and said many residents are transient.

"It's a lonely place to be, you feel isolated,” said Pugliese. “Honestly, if I knew a young professional that was thinking about moving here I probably wouldn't advise it.”

Community

The theme of community came up again and again.

“I have just graduated from UVM in May and jumped straight into a salaried position at Vermont Energy Investment Corporation,” wrote Ben Plotzker. “The paradigm of Vermonters is what made me want to stay up here. The people [back home in Connecticut] are in a different state of mind and lack a connection to the community. I need adventure and excitement in my life to keep my passion for work going.”

Chelsea Smiley, a Vermont native, returned because of her tight-knit community.

“I left the state for college, but couldn't wait to get back to be closer to my family and the community I love,” wrote Smiley. “Finding work is easier in a small state where, even before you tender your resume, they know all about you.  For me, the community is the foundation upon which I will layer my education and build my career.”

Dan Marchetti, 34, relocated to Vermont with his young family. He said the level of community engagement was a reason for that.

"People are engaged in the community. That's something we weren't feeling living in the metro Boston area,” said Marchetti. “People weren't aware of what their community was. It wasn't a place where you went to a co-op and had conversations with your neighbors. You probably didn't know your neighbors."

Parenting

Marchetti said raising his family in Vermont is ideal. Ariel Brooks, a new mom, agreed. She said the community of new parents in the Brattleboro area was especially helpful.

"There's a really strong new moms network in Brattleboro,” said Brooks. There's a lot of deliberate attempts to build community among new mothers, to make sure that people feel supported and meet other people with babies. That's been really incredible."

Not all parents felt the same. A woman who asked to be identified as “Concerned Mom,” wrote in to say that she worries her daughter will grow up in an insular environment.

“Sadly, this state is the perfect place for those who want to retire or vacation,” she wrote. “Not make a living, or be exposed to diversity and new ideas, or empower young professionals who are women and mothers.”

“Our two children, 29 and 26, chose not to live here.  They both moved to Massachusetts after college. One lives in Boston, the other just outside of the city.  Very few of their friends live in Vermont now, and the ones that are, most are in Burlington.”- Ann Jane Kemon

On career development

Several young professionals said that while they are happy in their careers now, they worry about growth and professional development in a small state.

Twenty-seven-year-old  Alex Shevrin is a teacher living in the Burlington area.

“If there was a point where I wanted to move on from my current position,” said Shevrin, “I don't know that I could make an upward or even sideways move."

"I still struggle with whether Vermont is the best place for my career as an attorney. I love this state so much and love being close to my family and friends. But I still wonder often about D.C., New York City, Boston, or elsewhere." - Sara Puls

And Sara Puls wrote that after law school, she struggled to find work in Vermont. “The job search was a nightmare,” Puls wrote. “I almost gave up, but through hard work, networking and patience, I now work as a staff attorney for the state."

But she says she still wonders whether she made the right decision.

“I still struggle with whether Vermont is the best place for my career as an attorney. I love this state so much and love being close to my family and friends,” wrote Puls. "But I still wonder often about D.C., New York City, Boston, or elsewhere.”

Maureen McElaney, a digital advisor at Dealer.com, suggests that if more young people weren’t tied to existing companies, Burlington might be a more attractive option.

“I think if the city of Burlington or the state of Vermont were to invest in an entrepreneurial start-up kind of community here, that would definitely draw people to the city a lot more,” said McElaney.

Peter Brown also works in Burlington’s growing tech field. He’s not tempted to leave for a bigger city.  He said the quality of life is more important than a larger paycheck.

“I know I could make more money living in Boston or living in New York as a software developer, and I choose not to do that,” Brown said. “Mostly for the quality of living that I get here in Vermont. I think that's actually more valuable to me.”

Those who leave

Kate Warren, 25, says the lifestyle and photography career she enjoys in Washington, D.C. would be impossible in Vermont. She’s a Richmond native, but after attending college in New York she hasn’t moved back.

"I definitely couldn't do my job, as it exists now, in Vermont,” said Warren. “I have friends who are photojournalists or advertising photographers who are based in Vermont. But their lifestyle and the type of clients they have are much different than what I have and what I'm interested in having."

"I left Vermont six months ago because I could not find work. I am 27 years old and had some great work experience, however, there were more opportunities outside of the state. It certainly broke my heart to leave." - Heidi Conner

Others leave and wish they could return. Ben Bonaccio told us about many Vermonters who say they wish they could return, but can’t find work here. Heidi Connor wrote in with a similar story:

“I left Vermont six months ago because I could not find work. I am 27 years old and had some great work experience, however, there were more opportunities outside of the state. It certainly broke my heart to leave,” she wrote.