Counting Vermont: A Look At The 2010 Census
11/19/11 4:00PM By Steve Delaney  Download MP3
(Host, Steve Delaney) Every decade the U.S. census counts how many Americans there are, where we live, and how many lawmakers we should have.
Experts hope those census numbers will also hint at population changes in the future, from state to state and within states as well.
And so from the statistics come projections. The optimists foresee a thriving Vermont.
(Paul Bruhn) "I think our future is very bright and we will have both a very strong, wonderful place to live, a great place to work and a strong economic well being as well."
(Delaney) But others see less of strong and wonderful, and fret that Vermont may be losing its uniqueness, in part by overdeveloping its famous landscape.
(Polly Sobel) "Vermont has a pretty stringent Act 250 policy, which tries to keep it all in check. But I just hope it's not going to become another Connecticut."
(Delaney) Just ahead we'll hear what the census numbers say about where we're going as a state, and how the changes could affect us.
First the news.
(Delaney) Every 10 years, census takers predictably find change in the population they're measuring. Sometimes it's pretty standard stuff. Sometimes it's more telling.
What the 2010 census of Vermont reveals is that there are a few more of us than ten years ago, that twenty five percent of all the state's people live in Chittenden County, and that an even higher percentage look to Burlington and its necklace of surrounding towns for jobs and for cultural institutions.
I'm Steve Delaney and this is Counting Vermont. Over the next hour we'll look at those census numbers and reveal how they reflect changes in Vermont's settlement patterns.
The growth around Burlington has profoundly affected the rest of Vermont, including the high-growth towns surrounding the state's leading city. The next Legislature will apportion its 180 seats in a pattern that reflects both population growth and decline in different parts of the state. Some areas of the state, including the Northeast Kingdom and some parts of southern Vermont, are going to have fewer representatives in Montpelier. And there will be gains in the growing counties around Burlington.
Just as some towns are thriving, especially those in the Burlington orbit, others are struggling. The reasons for that are partly, but not entirely, traceable to the state's unique geography. But yet the land itself has almost dictated where people have settled in Vermont, from the very beginning.
Gregory Sanford is Vermont's state archivist. He believes the rivers were the most vital of the several forces that determine where people choose to live.
(Sanford) "If you were near a waterway, the river, the lake, you could bring things in, you could take things out to market easier, so we tended to live in those valleys, but also because again they were pathways through the mountains, they became the backbone of our transportation network."
(Delaney) The valleys became the site of railroads and later highways. So in lots of places in Vermont you can see waterways, railways and highways all sharing the same space between the mountains.
But in the new census there's evidence emerging that the newest driver of where people settle in Vermont is neither river nor rail or road.
(Carmen Tedesco) "I'm Carmen Tedesco and I live in Huntington, Vermont."
(Delaney) Carmen Tedesco went to college in Vermont, then lived for several years in Washington, but wanted to come back, so she did, with no disruption in her employment.
(Tedesco) "I work in Washington, D. C., so I'm a telecommuter, yeah. I'm a telecommuter and I work in Washington, D. C., but I live in Huntington."
(Delaney) Carmen Tedesco is in the bow wave of people who are settling in Vermont not because of transportation, but because of communication.
Like a growing number of people, she's able to keep her big-city job while living in small-town Vermont. Tedesco uses broadband Internet access to link her with her company's home office. She says there are others just like her.
(Tedesco) "A lot of people telecommute. They've chosen to live out there because they like the area, not because it's convenient, cause it's not."
(Delaney) Fast internet access is the first factor to determine settlement patterns in Vermont that does not depend on physical access.
(Chris Campbell) "I don't know if broadband will have exactly the same affect as the interstate highways, but generally speaking, broadband is going to connect us to the world, it's going to connect us to opportunities."
(Delaney) Chris Campbell is in charge of accomplishing something that for years, governors have been trying to provide: Statewide high-speed Internet access. Politicians know that can tilt decisions about where Vermonters settle.
In Chris Campbell's mind, getting broadband out to every corner of the state promises to give smaller communities at least a chance to compete.
(Campbell) "The economic life of our society is moving online. For better or worse and of course there's a little bit of both, but, it's a fundamental shift and it's really not a choice if Vermont wants to stay viable, stay relevant. We have to be a part of that. ... Think about being able to reach out markets, touch opportunities all around the world. And yet live and work, raise your kids, recreate in Vermont, what a fantastic opportunity.
(Delaney) No one can say for sure what the promise is behind broadband. But policymakers like Chris Campbell, who runs the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, believe that getting Internet access even to the most rural corners of the state could begin to turn around some of the population trends that show up in the census.
(Campbell) "I tend to think that the result will be, it will provide people with increased opportunity in rural areas. I think you see that, across the country, there are many many rural areas that are really challenged, a lot of economic opportunity tends to flow to metropolitan areas. I think that it's going to help to mitigate and push against the challenges that rural areas in general are experiencing."
(Delaney) Campbell uses himself as an example of why he thinks broadband access is so important to Vermont's future. He grew up in Colchester. But like so many young people, he moved away for college.
(Campbell) "I had, actually, I intended to come back. I went away because I believed that I actually would be returning here. And I wanted a period where I had something different, some diversity and experience. I came back because I really like the human scale of Vermont. It felt like a place where you could make a difference, you could matter in your community. And that was really important to me."
(Delaney) Some Vermonters may not have the same opportunity to move away and come back. The promise of instant computer access is that they may be able to stay home and experience some of the world beyond the state lines as Chris Campbell says he has.
(Campbell) "I think that one of the really interesting things about broadband is the way that it connects people in new and interesting ways. And I think that the connections are both within the community and to the outside world and i think both of them are really transformative and really important. ... I also think that it's a really new and exciting opportunity to interact w/the rest of the world, economically, civically, educationally, and it really expands the scope of economic opportunity in the state in really important ways."
(Delaney) Broadband is not yet driving where-to-live decisions in Vermont, but that is coming, and there may already be visible effects in the latest census numbers.
Many Vermonters live in pockets of the state that are nowhere near an on-ramp to the information superhighway. Some still live on the modern-day internet equivalent of the dirt road, relying on dial-up access. Others have better than dial-up, but still don't have high-speed Internet. So, where you live determines whether you can follow the lead of people like Carmen Tedesco and expect that you, too, can work from home.
There's no clear evidence, yet, of how this growth of high-speed internet access will affect settlement patterns. But it does allow some new options for deciding where we live, and some of the so-called "connected" towns are doing well.
Huntington, where Carmen Tedesco lives, has jumped from ninety-first in size among Vermont towns in 2000. It's now 88th, at just under two thousand residents.
Ten years ago, she could not have lived in rural Vermont and worked in Washington, D.C. But she fits right into a new migration pattern that economist Tom Kavet has been watching. It begins with the fact that Vermont, a place where people would like to live, does not have a truly big city.
(Kavet) "So, big anchor cities offer tremendous opportunity for young people starting out. There are entry-level jobs that give them lots of responsibility and provide them great opportunity for advancement. But what we see are migratory outflows of people at the state level between mid 20s to mid 30s and then inflows from mid 30s to mid 50s. And we do know some characteristics of people coming in and out: the people coming in are wealthier. So, just in terms of economic impact, they tend to be people who have a choice about where they live. So they might be bringing their business with them, they may be people who don't have to physically be close to the place that they work, which more and more these days is an option for people."
(Delaney) "Do we have the infrastructure to support people who want to work from home or want to work online or who want to be away from the place where their paycheck is generated?"
(Kavet) "We're getting it and getting it very quickly. There have been some ambitious plans to rollout broadband to every corner of the state, but, quite frankly, there wasn't the money to do it. The recent federal stimulus expenditures have benefited our state enormously in that regard. They have accelerated and will probably result in broadband access virtually everywhere and this will transform a lot of economic potential."
(Delaney) Tom Kavet sees the economic potential of broadband as a future factor, even though the sharp edge of that wedge is already here.What that means is that soon, if not now, working Vermonters can make a choice between going where people and jobs cluster, or choosing another way.
Robert Frost put it this way almost a hundred years ago:
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I chose the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference."
(Delaney) It has indeed to Carmen Tedesco and Vermont's other new telecommuters.
The new Internet technology that may boost the attractiveness of smaller places, has not blunted the growth of Burlington and its surrounding towns at all in the past decade. It may have helped make northwestern Vermont even more attractive for people who think even of Vermont's largest city as a pretty small place. Burlington has added twenty five hundred people and at forty two thousand, it is the state's population leader by more than two to one over second-place Essex. But South Burlington has grown faster than either, adding more than three thousand new residents. Of the 250 or so places to live in Vermont, almost 200 of them don't have as many residents in total as South Burlington has added in the past ten years.
In fact, of the top eight communities in Vermont, five of them are in Chittenden County, with Colchester in fourth place and Milton in eighth.
There are distinguished colleges all over Vermont, but it's hard to deny the impact of the Big Three in Chittenden County: The University of Vermont, Champlain College and St. Michael's in Colchester create in the Burlington area a huge cluster of young people.
Chip Sawyer, who leads development efforts in St. Albans, has looked at the effect of all those students in one general location.
(Sawyer) "When you look at in-state migration it is true that northwestern Vermont seems to be attracting Vermonters from other areas of the state to them. ... So Chittenden County must be attracting other Vermonters into its general area."
(Delaney) Sawyer delivered an analysis of the 2010 census at the University of Vermont in September.
(Sawyer) "But when you look at the net out-of-state migration, Chittenden County loses the most in net numbers, which could be people graduating from college, which means that Chittenden County loses more graduating seniors than it gains in people who are entering college. So we're losing our Vermonters who stay in-state to go to college as well as those who come from out-of-state to go to college."
(Delaney) In Burlington, you can often hear the energy. People walking down the street talking on their cell phones. Vendors and restaurants teeming with customers. Even music serenading shoppers on Church Street.
(Brian Pine) "There is the talk of the ‘talent drain' or the ‘brain drain' or the ‘young people who are leaving Vermont because they can't find work.'"
(Delaney) That's Brian Pine. He specializes in the housing and demographic patterns of Burlington.
(Pine) "I think there's probably a kernel of truth to that, but that's probably true in most communities with the exception of large, large urban areas, because jobs are plentiful if you will. ... But I believe that here, people find the experience to be unique and the Vermont Living experience to be, if they find it to their liking, they're going to come back. They're going to maybe go build a career, get more experience, and come back because it's such a great place to live. It's such a great place to raise kids. And that, that's something that brings people back."
(Delaney) Economist Tom Kavet agrees that out-migration may well reverse itself after a few years, and bring those graduates back, as Carmen Tedesco returned, after going from Middlebury College to Washington, D.C., to Huntington, Vermont.
And Brian Pine thinks that Burlington is leading in the push toward high speed internet access, due largely to Burlington Telecom, its fiscally troubled fiber-optic network.
(Pine) "Today in Burlington, because of our fiberoptic system, which of course is having some challenges financially, but, those challenges aside, it's one of the most advanced fiber optic systems anywhere. And so you'll find business people who are here now, that are thriving and doing well because they have access to basically a band-width in the fiber optic system that they can communicate files with very large amounts of information very quickly, in a way that wouldn't otherwise be available if burlington hadn't invested in that system."
(Delaney) The best known of the new software companies reliant on fiber-optic internet access include Dealer.com and MyWebGrocer.com, both technology driven.
So Burlington now has the technical requirements to be jobs hub, the ethnic and racial diversity to be a cultural hub, and the infrastructure, including the state's best transportation system, to assert its dominance in other fields as well. Those civic assets raise an important question about the state's dominant city.
Is Burlington sucking all the economic energy out of the rest of the state? All the young brains, all the good jobs? Absolutely not, according to people who live in other quadrants of Vermont.
(Loudspeaker) "Captain Hubbard to the apparatus floor. Captain Hubbard to the apparatus floor."
(Ron Hubbard) "My name is Ron Hubbard I'm a captain with the Brattleboro Fire Department. I have been here for 32 years now, I started in 1980. I was born and raised in Brattleboro."
(Delaney) For Captain Hubbard, the struggle for Brattleboro's future is a tug of war among competing civic assets.
(Hubbard) "There's the artsy community, which is great, it's fantastic, and that group of folks who really don't want to grow, they want to keep this scenic little town, but then there's the other folks that want industry and business and I guess which I'm one of them, for jobs. I think that, with jobs, with adequate jobs, the towns going to thrive and, we'll have the money in our tax base to maintain green spaces and build parks and stuff."
(Delaney) Real estate broker Suzanne King embraces both the town's roles, artistic and economic alike.
(King) "Brattleboro is sort of the hub. It's the cultural hub and it's also the economic hub for Windham County."
(Delaney) Still, she sometimes sees the shadow of a bigger mass at the opposite corner of Vermont.
(King) "I think Burlington does feel pretty far away. When things happen in other parts of the state I think this area sometimes gets forgotten a little bit."
(Delaney) The shire town of southeastern Vermont ranks seventh among Vermont communities, just behind Bennington and just ahead of Milton. Its population has grown by just a third of one percent in the past decade, and yet Brattleboro is hardly stagnant.
(Jacqueline Perry) "My name is Jacqueline Perry. I was born in Brattleboro, Vt., and I .... grew up in W. Townsend, Vt. Now I live back in Brattleboro. Right now we're at the Brattleboro Wednesday Farmer's Market. ... I do want to stay in Vermont because my family's here and I'm getting into the organic farming, for a career.
(Delaney) Jaqueline Perry is 27, went to nearby Marlboro College, and is getting into organic farming as a career.
(Perry) "A lot of restaurants are going out of business, and that affects farming."
(Delaney) She's a regular at the Wednesday farmers' market in Brattleboro.
(Perry) "It's going to be $9.55 please."
(takes money, hear bills and change).
(Perry) "There you go, thanks a lot. Enjoy."
(Perry) "I'm planning, at least, the next five years I can see myself in Vermont. Brattleboro, Vermont. Yah!"
(Delaney) Cheers for Brattleboro are matched by cheers for the hometown in dozens of Vermont communities, especially our small, rural outposts. They may not have seen the growth that the necklace of towns around Burlington has. But almost everywhere, people say, this town is just right for me.
(Paul Costello) "There's a lot of different reasons that people want to be in rural Vermont communities."
(Delaney) Paul Costello runs Vermont's Council on Rural Development, an organization devoted to the well-being of our smaller communities. He's bullish on the future of towns large and small, regardless of what the census numbers tell us. Costello says the lure of those places is complex and powerful.
(Costello) "It's complicated. It's recreational opportunities. It's economic. But it's also cultural. It's a sense that we're not a community that's glass is half-empty; A community that's flat or has a feeling of decline. A feeling where people are rallied together, where there's a sense of vision about the future. There's a sense of internalized brand, like a cultural identification with a sense of place that's positive."
(Delaney) Costello and others we'll hear from believe in the Vermont Brand, a sense of pride visible in most Vermont communities. And the census figures suggest that that pride is there, regardless of whether the town in question is gaining or losing population.
(Charles Turnbaugh) "My name's Charles Turnbaugh. I live in Moretown."
(Delaney) Charles Turnbaugh believes people live in Moretown not only by habit, but by desire, the healing effects of adversity, most recently Tropical Storm Irene.
(Turnbaugh) "We've all, stead of these little feuds that we had before, they're all gone away, and we're all pulled together here, and it's made us a complete community now. And that's my ‘wow' moment."
(Delaney) In town after town along all the flooded rivers of Vermont, the chorus was the same. "We had more volunteers," they said, "than we knew what to do with." Nina Brennan is part of that chorus. She owns the Proud Flower shop in hard-hit Waterbury.
(Brennan) "I personally have never seen that many people come together for no gain for themselves, just to help their neighbor."
(Delaney) In that widespread response to the flooding emergency, Governor Peter Shumlin sees a kind of Vermont exceptionalism, a way in which we are unique.
(Shumlin) "It isn't just rhetoric. Vermont is a place and perhaps the only place in the country where we care about each other, we take care of each other, we share a common destiny to ensure we all have a good quality of life."
(Delaney) Small-town advocate Paul Costello says there's a dynamic in the state, beyond the landscape, and beyond the reaction to disasters that draws people to the Green Mountains and holds them here.
(Costello) "We are Bellow Falls. We are Hinesburg. We're Richmond. We're a town on the move. And if we're not then there's a sense of loss and a sense of worry and a sense of decline and a sense that because you don't have that feeling together, you don't line up together. You don't get the bigger things done. You don't know what's next. The glass is half empty and you don't know how to fill it up."
(Delaney) There are both kinds of communities in Vermont and we'll explore the reasons why some places with growing populations are struggling, while other towns that now have fewer people are thriving. We'll hear from those places when Counting Vermont continues in a moment.
(Delaney) How is Vermont changing and how is that change reflected in the 2010 census numbers? That's what we're analyzing in this hour. I'm Steve Delaney and this is Counting Vermont.
And then there's Chittenden County. Just under ten thousand people moved into the state's economic engine since 2000 and now almost exactly a quarter of the state' residents live there, in a string of busy towns surrounding Burlington. Those ten thousand new people are more than the total population of all but eight communities in the state, and five of those are neighbors: Burlington, South Burlington, Essex, Colchester and Milton, all in Chittenden County. Some Vermonters think of the city by the lake as a huge black hole, swallowing up young people in search of jobs, and the best doctors, the best teachers and the best entertainment. In other words, all the things you can't quite find in a smaller place, as embracing as that place may be.
There are several kinds of smaller places. Charlotte is one. It's a town that's firmly anchored to the Greater Burlington economy, and is in transition from agriculture to suburb. It has gained a hundred eighty five residents in the past decade, to more than thirty-seven hundred. Charlotte has jumped past Windsor and Poultney since the 2000 census and now ranks 41st among Vermont towns. The farms that remain here tend to be home to horses. More and more of the people who live in Charlotte think of it as a bedroom community. They drive to Burlington or other towns for work and recreation.
On the other end of the spectrum is Hardwick. Charlotte and Hardwick don't share much except an agricultural past - and a changing population and landscape. Hardwick has two gateways to the Northeast Kingdom, in Routes 14 and 15. For a while it was considered, even by its residents, as a place where not much happened. That's not true any more, even though the town has lost 164 people in the past decade, and at just over three thousand, ranks 56th in Vermont. Hardwick is the informal capital of the state's "Eat Local" movement. In fact there's a sign on the local bookstore that says "Eat Local, Read Local."
That new civic energy has turned Hardwick into what one writer calls the town that food saved.
State Archivist Gregory Sanford thinks that now, Hardwick has more positivity, a firmer sense of direction than Charlotte has - even if the census numbers send a different message.
(Sanford) "Charlotte, for instance, it's relatively, at least on the west side of town, flat agricultural land that's now being turned into residential, often well-to-do residential. It has lake frontage. It has those particular economic advantages. So it's interesting to note, like many towns, there was a traditional break, even in Charlotte. So now the dividing line is comparable to where Route 7 is between east and west Charlotte had 2 different sets of world views if you will, based on what their economic base population, density, etc... was. So you look at Hardwick - Hardwick actually was an economic engine of Lamoille County at one point because of its quarrying interests. It was importing workers. It was doing quite well. When that business starts to collapse it becomes the Hardwick, which for better or worse becomes a negative reference symbol for a lot of people "Oh, there's a town where there's nothing going on". Now you look at it and a new group of people have moved in. They are trying to create a different economic engine based on a variety of alternative agricultural approaches. So what will Hardwick be then versus Charlotte in another 5 - 10 years? What's different about it right now? What's changing about them as Charlotte looses its agricultural base and Hardwick builds theirs up as you see a larger cultural context about local war movements, farm to plate. There's just a whole host of moving targets."
(Delaney) In the public's eye, Hardwick has changed dramatically. There's a sense that it's a town on the move. New businesses, new ideas, momentum. Is it?
(Linda Ramsdell) "The first thing I'd say is that I don't know that Hardwick has actually been re-invented."
(Delaney) Linda Ramsdell owns the Galaxy Bookstore and is behind the emergence of Clare's, a new café that's become a community meeting place.
(Ramsdell) "There's been a lot of attention has been paid to Hardwick, and I think that's all justified and exciting and has brought a lot of attention, and that's all really great."
"I think it's a combination of factors, it's just like some kind of magic happened where all of the, you know, it sounds all airy-fairy or something, but it's like a lot of things just lined up. The people, people who started talking together, started collaborating together."
"To me there's something really durable about people actually having conversations and shaking hands with each other to make things happen...
I wanted a classic third place, a place that wasn't work and wasn't home, where people would have those conversations with each other."
(Delaney) Three years ago, Clare's was born, a café that has become a nexus of the new Hardwick, a newly energized town that still has its old challenges.
(Miranda Hunt) "Hardwick is still a really poor town."
(Delaney) Miranda Hunt looks quite at home in the kitchen of the Buffalo Mountain Café, in the middle of Hardwick. But she worries that there may be a downside to the town's upturn.
(Hunt) "I know there have been a lot of publicity about the area and the food movement and the local movement going on, and there have been tons of articles. I think it's drawing people here so we're all kind of worried, are tons of people going to start flocking here to live here because it is this great place? Which wouldn't be bad, I guess, for businesses, but would it change the whole atmosphere and the whole community itself, if tons of people just started moving here."
"There are more jobs and there have been in recent years but there's a lot of pressure around jobs and housing and people having enough food to eat."
"So, I worry that everybody thinks that Hardwick has been transformed and everything's perfect here, but really there's a lot of ways that people still need to work and help each other so that everybody has what they need. Because it's still a very poor rural town."
(Delaney) Hardwick and Charlotte are both trying to redefine themselves. One town has new energy based on rethinking its agriculture and another has new prosperity based on converting farmland to comfortable suburban homes.People who study marine biology know that big fish eat little fish. People who study population shifts have often said that big towns eat little towns and rural villages.
Well, the new census figures just don't support that theory, not any more. Of the Vermont towns that rank between one hundredth and one hundred fiftieth largest in population, only twelve have lost residents in the past decade. And of those twelve, the average loss was 32 people. Only Cavendish lost more than a hundred.
What that suggests is that our smaller places have a staying power that goes against the notion that bright young people leave small-town Vermont in search of jobs and excitement. The just-emerging Carmen Tedesco Effect - people who are able to hold down big-city jobs while living in small-town Vermont - may be reversing that drain. Native Vermonters and people from away as well may be coming back to rural places, because thanks to improved computer access, they can actually work from anywhere. Economist Tom Kavet says a lot of them are looking for what he calls the amenities advantage.
(Kavet) "And when there are job opportunities it's not difficult to attract people and people will work in Vermont at lower wages than they would in other places. That's another indication of a positive amenity. You say that it's a bad thing that our wages are a little bit lower but it's interesting, the biggest wage differentials between Vermont and the rest of the country are in highly skilled professions. Things like software programming, physicians, lawyers, economists. There's a bigger gap between what they earn in Vermont and what they could earn outside; so they're here by choice. They could be working anywhere; they're here by choice. And that reflects on the fact that's it's a nice place e to live, for the most part. So, people think of it as an attractive place to raise a family and to live."
(Delaney) As for the students themselves, they're of mixed mind about settling in Vermont. Marshon Warren, for one, thinks Burlington is just too different from his hometown, Chicago.
(Warren) "My name is Marshon Warren, and I'm 20, and I go to CCV. Right now, I'm a sophomore and I plan on leaving next year to go to Boston for college there, transfer to Boston University. Because I'm not into the whole Vermont thing. So small, and the same thing every day, and yah. Laugh. I just want to leave."
(Hopkins) "My name's Sydney Hopkins, I'm a junior at the University of Vermont. ... I'm from Vt. so it's definitely an area that I like. I like the town of Burlington. I'm an education major so the school system in Burl is really, really good. And they have a wide selection of different types of school so it's definitely a possibility, but I don't see myself staying here after school."
(Kennedy) "My name is Caitlin Kennedy. I'm from New Jersey and I'm a freshman at UVM. I def think I'm going to stay in Vermont just because I like the whole town feel of it, and the connectivity to other people."
(Delaney) Joy McKenzie is 45 and the mother of four, ranging in age from 13 to 26. She's happy in her adopted hometown.
(McKenzie) "Well, I came over from England to Burlington. I've been here for 12 years. I work at Rite Aid, downtown Burlington. ... Burlington to me is okay. There's not much to do down here, especially for children. So I think with my children, do I see them staying in Burlington for a long? No, I don't. ‘Cuz they talk about going somewhere else, different state.
(Delaney) Some of those settlement decisions are based on whether people look around and see people like themselves. People of color, different ethnicities. In most places, they don't see a lot of minorities. But in Vermont's population hub of Burlington, they do. And that is fairly new.
Brian Pine of the city of Burlington reflects on the changes.
(Pine) "I've lived here for 30 years and so I have the perspective of 30 years of change and demographic change and there's change that you observe in Burlington just by being here when you are driving or walking along and you see more people of color than you would have seen 30 years ago. That's really obvious."
"And that has implications for our Burlington community in so many ways. We have adjustments that need to be made in terms of the way that our schools function and the way that our work-force reflects the growing diversity or doesn't reflect the growing diversity."
"The types of offerings that are provided at school, everything from the holidays we observe to the food we serve to the courses, all of that needs to be taken into consideration now that we have a very different population than we did 10, 15, 20 years ago."
(Delaney) Pine believes the Burlington region's diversity is one of the reasons that it's grown as much as it has compared to the rest of the state. So, when someone settled in Vermont, Burlington was the natural place for them to move. It has the services. And because of that, Pine believes, it makes itself more attractive.
(Pine) "We have a relatively welcoming, inclusive community, and it's not the case in all parts of Vermont because they just don't have the capabilities to do that. They don't have the resources. "
(Delaney) There are challenges, of course. Schools in Burlington and some surrounding towns have to be prepared to serve non-English speakers, for example. Other social needs have to be met. But the advantages to someone like Brian Pine are economic. The greater diversity, he says, is attractive to newcomers looking for work.
(Pine) "I think the one thing that people might not see right away and it might take almost a generation to see is the benefit of having a more diverse community, is that our children now are growing up in a community which is much more similar to communities in other parts of U.S. and other parts of the world, where you'd have less homogeneity and you have more diversity. You're more exposed to other languages, other cultural norms, different types of food, different belief systems, all of that, i think makes our children a little more prepared for the world and more well-rounded as people. I think that's a really positive thing."
(Delaney) There's yet another type of small Vermont town... the ones just beyond the reach of larger places, the ones where agriculture has been the unwavering economic driver for almost 200 years.
Tucked away east of St. Albans in Franklin County is Fairfield, now Vermont's 89th biggest town after adding ninety people in the past decade to reach nineteen hundred and thirty eight, just behind Huntington in the population parade. Fairfield is ground zero for maple syrup, dairy farms and Howrigans.
(Danny Howrigan) "Well I think that Franklin County is the center of maple syrup for the country and Fairfield is the biggest producer of maple syrup in Franklin County so, guess that puts us up there with the best of them."
(Delaney) Danny Howrigan is part of an enormous sugaring clan that makes Fairfield the top syrup producer in the state. He's the sixth generation on this land, and he's about 50.
(Howrigan) "I've lived here my whole life, so far. When I grew up in grade school it was very, very, you knew everybody in the community and it was all small farms Today, there's a lot more people living here that work out of town, lot more commuters, yet agriculture's still prospering. The farms that are left have gotten a lot larger both in maple and dairy."
(Delaney) While the trend all over Vermont is to hire outside farm labor, the Howrigans still run an all-family enterprise. Danny Howrigan heads out the barn himself to feed the family's horses.
(Howrigan) "We're still doing it ourselves but it's just the economics of agriculture's very challenging right now. It's very marginal, that's why I think everybody's getting larger. Well hopefully the farm can keep going and the town as well."
(Delaney) Fairfield has in fact prospered in the past decade. And its solid agriculture base is still driving the local economy. Fairfield is one of the many Vermont towns where farming offsets the growing number of new residents who commute to jobs in Chittenden County. Danny Howrigan says he doesn't know a lot of those people.
Economist Tom Kavet says that balance of economies is good, that too much conformity would be bad.
(Kavet) "I guess I would watch out for becoming the same; for a kind of homogeneity that if we just drift, without any conscious sense of what our direction is and who we are, I think there's a tendency to sort of drift into the middle. To sort of drift into just becoming like any other state in the United State's. So, I would celebrate our differences and I would identify our differences and I would look at things that are comparative advantages and competitive advantages both from an economic point of view and also cultural and social points of view and I would try to do more of that. So, I would say, maybe inattention would be the biggest risk. A lack of any plan or direction would be the biggest risk because once we just morph into anythingness or everythingness we no longer have an identity."
(Delaney) Paul Bruhn is a preservationist. He heads the Preservation Trust of Vermont, and he thinks Vermont's uniqueness is safe, because Vermonters know how fragile it is.
(Bruhn) "I think that's true for lots of people. That there is an understanding about this fragility. And there is an understanding that it needs work and that we've got to make an effort."
(Delaney) "So we have to cultivate Vermont's essence in the same way that we cultivate the fields. And keep after it. And keep weeding it."
(Delaney) "And weeds are sprawl and other attractive nuisances."
(Bruhn) "Absolutely. And if we are able to figure out how to do just that, I think our future is very bright and we will have both a very strong, wonderful place to live, a great place to work and a strong economic well being as well."
(Delaney) Again, economist Tom Kavet.
(Kavet) "I think we're constantly redefining who we are and that can happen sometimes more quickly than people think. So, I feel like what Vermont could become is wide open. We're not limited by what we have been in terms of what we can be."
(Delaney) "Are there many places like that here?"
(Kavet) "Many places like that in Vermont, I think. Yea, many small towns that still have a functional general store and still have people that come to baseball games downtown and, you know, that are alive, that have things going on: musical events, cultural events."
(Delaney) "What are the symptoms of a failure to thrive or a lack of will to live on the civic level?"
(Kavet) "Well, I think you see it immediately just in the landscape of a town. You know, shuttered businesses and absence of anything happening, so ..."
(Delaney) "Is that the absence of young people?"
(Kavet) "No, not necessarily young people, old people can make a town very vibrant as well, it's not just young folks."
(Delaney) Gregory Sanford believes the uniqueness that is Vermont can embrace some very different places with equal validity....
(Sanford) "Frank Bryan used to say Burlington has the advantage of being a city near the Vermont border. It's more complex than that, I think Burlington IS in Vermont, I think Burlington does reflect both of Vermont's landscape, it's wonderful harbor, the fact that it has been the university for a couple hundred years, that it has provided all these things. I think Hardwick is Vermont with its quarrying it's agricultural base its occasional poverty its growth and rebirth. It is all Vermont and if we want to say large towns small towns Burlington versus the rest I think we tend to forget who we are."
(Delaney) "We think of ourselves as different . Who are we, what are we?"
(Sanford) If I had to look at distinguishing Vermont features, I think landscape does have an impact on people if nothing else starting from the very beginning, how you are going to start with ... farming, develop a market economy all those sort of things, that will have a part in it, and I think the climate has a role that you have a few months of concentrated good weather hopefully so you can grow things or take advantage of it and a longer winter. I think if I had to look at one thing and again, I'm not an expert at this, I think we always have had a relatively small population, that population is spread out over 246 towns and cities 251 if you want to count the 5 unorganized towns, and we have opportunities to talk to one another. ....you can hear the occasional cacophony but in this whole it dialogue about who we want to be, how each generation has had to tackle core issues whether it be the economy, taxation, the environment going all the way back to the 18th century. That opportunity to talk, to realize you can't disparage broadly because you're going to see that same person at the local store I think has been a saving grace. There are forces that pull against that; mass media, the impersonalization of talking heads whether it be on radio, TV or now through blogs and however you get access to them, but we're still small enough, still smaller than most U.S. cities, that I think is our saving grace."
"So, as we have settled in the land, and how we now express concern about sprawl, we support downtown development and the concentration within communities. But at the same time, we want to live in the country."
(Delaney) And living in the country, getting away from the hubbub that even the bells at an old-fashioned gas station might produce, can mean very different things to different people.
(Tom Rowshoe) "My name is Tom Rowshoe. And I lived in Hardwick, all my life. Well, until last year. I moved to Woodbury. Just to get out of the village. Where I lived in the village there was a lot of traffic and i want to be in the back woods of Vermont a little bit. Finally get a piece of the nice countryside!"
(Delaney) Tom Rowshoe owns Mike's Service Station in the center of town. He's lived through hard times in Hardwick.
(Rowshoe) "I've seen a lot of changes in the buildings in Hardwick. And the surrounding towns as well. People have taken the buildings and redone them, and brought in more business into Hardwick, in the last five years, I've seen that. Prior to that, it was kind of run down. It was at one time, like 20 years ago, still very busy. Then it went down, over ten years. And now it's picked back up. I think a lot of it is this new sustainable living and agriculture movement we've got in this area. Local farmers. Local foods. That kind of thing."
(Delaney) Richmond holds down Chittenden County's eastern flank, and is trying to balance being an independent community with being a bedroom for Burlington. In the last census, Richmond lost nine residents and dropped a population notch to 37th just behind fast-growing Fairfax and just ahead of Rutland Town.
Polly and Dave Sobel moved to Richmond from South Burlington years ago, and they think their town is growing just about as it should.
(Dave Sobel) "This is a small community of 4,000 people that seems to be not looking to grow immeasurably, I think it's a reasonable amount for this size community. We still have dairy farms. And we still have people who commute into the city. So it's a very nice balance. Not too many people have 3 upscale restaurants in their town of 4,000 people, unless you head up to Stowe."One thing they say they don't fret about is the chance that their independent Richmond will be sucked into the high density of the Burlington orbit.
(Polly Sobel) "I don't really think so. No. 4:04 I think there is zoning in place that would probably prevent that."
(Dave Sobel) "Yeah, I would agree. It's never been a concern."
(Delaney) Even for people who live in areas of the state that haven't had big population gains, there's almost always a sense of optimism. Rutland is no longer the second largest community in the state and hasn't been for years. But people there still like to boast that it's Vermont's "second city" even though it's outranked by the likes of Essex and South Burlington now.
And the same kind of civic pride holds in most of Vermont's traditional population centers. Bennington holds down the southwestern corner of the state. Newport and St. Johnsbury anchor opposite corners of the Northeast Kingdom. Hartford and its collection of villages prosper in the orbit of Dartmouth College.
Archivist Gregory Sanford thinks Vermont's future has more potential than a choice between IBM-style industrialization and Norman Rockwell quaintness.
(Sanford) "And isn't that up to us. The thing about it is you look across VT history and people say what is it? Is it the water there? Why were you the first state to abolish slavery in 1777? Or not have property qualifications for office holders, why did you have inventors like John Deere and others coming out of this rural region, why have you supported social services over time, in different ways."
(Delaney) "Getting rid of billboards."
(Sanford) "Bottle deposits, these are ...... civil unions/gay marriage. None of these were easy, but we had those discussions and we decided this is who we are and who we want to be."
(Delaney) Maybe that's why we live here... to be among people from Burlington who will carpool to places they have to look up on a map, just to lend a hand in times of need. To be among farmers who will turn tractors and chains to the labor of shifting the rubble away from the re-usable. To be among those who savor the view, and value it above the billboards.
To be welcomed by retired firemen handing out plates of beans and burgers to exhausted volunteers after a disaster.
It feels good. It is us, and no matter whether the town we live in is growing or static or struggling,
It's the Vermont edge, the difference, the brand. And, at least when crisis occurs, we seem to think it's worth stretching ourselves to preserve all that.
The census tells us a lot, but not how we're doing. We must look elsewhere for that, but it's not hard to find the Vermont answer: "Not too bad."
For VPR News, I'm Steve Delaney.
Note: Counting Vermont was written by Steve Delaney and produced and reported by Liz First Raddock. Chris Albertine was technical director and Bob Merrill composed our theme music. Ross Sneyd was editor and John Van Hoesen was executive producer. Production of Counting Vermont was supported by VPR's Journalism Fund.