By Rob Roper
A recent headline boasted, “Attracted by the promise of $10,000, new workers start arriving in Vermont.” Great. How many? Eighteen. Forty-seven when you include the non-working family members who tagged along. The article goes on, “Acknowledging the success of the program, Gov. Phil Scott’s administration proposed that the state spend $1 million in the coming year.” Wait a minute. The success of the program? By what metric?
The governor has said in the past that we need to attract 10,000 new workers a year to replace what we are losing. This program, at ridiculous expense, scraped up 18. Only 9,982 to go! How is that a success? It’s pathetic in more ways than one.
But, worse than this failure of numbers is the damage this program will do to Vermont’s brand over the long term. In his best selling book on leadership, “Start with Why,” Simon Sinek offers a cautionary tale from General Motors. In the 1990s, facing lots of competition and losing customers, GM started a program of offering “cash back” incentives to buy their cars — anywhere from $500 to $7,000. But, in the 2000s, GM realized that this approach was fiscally unsustainable. They were losing money, so “GM announced it would reduce the amount of the cash-back incentives it would offer, and with that reduction, sales plummeted. No cash, no customers.”
This is exactly what Vermont is doing with this poorly considered program. If the message you are sending is that Vermont is a place we have to pay you to come live, ultimately the lesson you’re teaching the world is “don’t move to Vermont without a check.” And, this is a less sustainable business model for Vermont than it was for GM.
Sinek’s point was to illustrate the difference between manipulation and inspiration. GM tried to manipulate its customers with a gimmick, but that’s not a long-term winning strategy. True success — real leadership — comes from building a brand that people aspire to be a part of without the gimmicks.
We will always be able to count the number of people brought into the state through a government program (even numbers as small as 18), but it’s not as easy to count the number of people who don’t move to Vermont because they didn’t get their $10,000 bucks, or would never move to a state so unattractive they had to pay you to live there, or those who leave because they feel like paying full freight in a state that uses their tax dollars to bribe outsiders to come in is a rip-off only a fool would sit still for.
They’re saying this program is a success? I’ll ask again: by what metric?