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Can COVID refugees help Vermont dig out of demographic hole?

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 5:03 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2020 at 5:34 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A number of people who came to Vermont to avoid the coronavirus say they could be staying indefinitely. An online survey conducted by University of Vermont researchers shows that over a third of those who took the survey intend on staying on in the Green Mountains.

"We felt safe here and we had already thought about coming to Vermont, and it just bumped up our timeline," said Eliza Fitzhugh, who recently moved to Vermont with her husband Andres Gutierrez.

The New York City couple just had their first child and decided to move to Vermont for the sake of safety during the pandemic. Now, they believe it will be best to stay in Vermont.

"We would like to stay here indefinitely. Vermont is like this amazing place where you can go hike, or ride your bicycle -- being surrounded by nature," Gutierrez said.

He says he has always wanted to live in a place like Vermont. Fitzhugh grew up in Montpelier and has been able to remotely maintain her career in Brooklyn since the move.

She took part in the eight-question online survey earlier this month after speaking with Lori Smith, executive director of the Vermont Futures Project.

Smith says that out of the nearly 250 surveyed, many of the new Vermonters say they will remain. "The key question for us was, 'Are you likely to stay?' And so a third of those folks that we surveyed are likely or very likely to stay in Vermont," she said.

Of those, over 60% were over the age of 35. That tells the story that we were serving folks with families, so it wasn’t just individuals,” Smith said.

This is a key element for the state of Vermont, which has been experiencing a declining and aging population. Smith says being able to retain these families will be extremely beneficial for the state and the economy. "It again, increases our tax-base, it increases, our demographics, all those trends that were really a little bit more downward prior to COVID. It really opens up opportunities," she said.

The Vermont Futures Project and the Center for Research on Vermont plan to take this study further in the near future. Click here for the preliminary results.

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