One of Rutland’s newest families, Jeanette and Shawn Langston and their two children are still getting settled. They are staying at the Best Western while they wait to close on a house in June, and their 7-year-old son started first grade last week.
Shawn Langston, 47, is a wildlife biologist who got a job with the U.S. Forest Service. Jeanette Langston said she has been a stay-at-home mother for the past seven years but is getting ready to go back to work.
“I’m either going to start my own business or work in community development-type stuff,” she said.
The Langstons moved following one of the “Stay to Stay” weekends organized by the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce. They are one of 11 families identified by the chamber as having been drawn to the Rutland area since the fall by some part of the regional marketing initiative. Several of those families agreed to interviews this week, talking about just what it was that made Rutland look like the place for them.
Jeanette Langston said about three years ago, she and her husband decided they didn’t want to live in Utah anymore.
“It’s too hot, and the culture was not right for us,” she said. “I’m from Western Montana. We missed snow.”
Vermont had the type of physical environment they were looking for, Langston said, and it was the people she met in Rutland who drew her to this exact part of the state. The city initially came to their attention three years ago, when what would eventually become her husband’s forest service job first opened.
He interviewed and didn’t get it, she said, but they kept their eyes on Rutland. She said they picked up on a strong sense of community through various Facebook groups. Then the job came open again.
“When I called people up and started talking to them, everyone was super-friendly,” she said. “No matter who I talked to here, everyone just gave me lots of information. ... Everyone I met is involved somehow, participating somehow in the community. That’s really great.”
The other families told largely similar stories of wanting to live in a place like Rutland, and of the conversations they had with people here making the area stand out from other small towns with plenty of nearby trees and water.
The Stay to Stay program is a state effort that encourages people thinking about relocating to Vermont to come for a designated weekend and meet with local community leaders. Rutland has taken the program a step further, creating a “concierge” service aimed at guiding newcomers through the process of finding a home, getting a job and establishing themselves socially.
The latest Stay to Stay event was last weekend, and Rutland Regional Chamber of Commerce executive director Mary Cohen said she expected 11 families.
“There are two families that moved here within the last month that want to come to the reception because they want to do the networking, too,” she said.
Cohen said the individualized attention has been the key to the effort’s effectiveness.
“We learned early on we can create this regional marketing, and it’s going to be a great tool, but it’s not going to be the answer, and we’re going to need to do a lot of ancillary activity to get people to come here,” she said.
Cohen said employers have been asking the campaign’s organizers to involve prospective employees in the events.
“They can give financial incentives, but they can’t give a sense of community,” she said.
The state launched the Stay to Stay program last year in Rutland, Bennington, Brattleboro and Burlington. Wendy Knight, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, said the four communities had 140 visitors through the program in 2018. Of those, she said 12 have already moved to Vermont and another 36 are in the process.
That means roughly a third of the people who “Stay to Stay” actually stay — a proportion she said has been maintained through the events in 2019, with 32 of 89 participants either already here or actively job- and house-hunting. Knight said she did not know what to expect when the program launched, but that she would have been satisfied with a 10% success rate.
“We’re really pleased with the promising results so far,” she said. “It doesn’t cost a lot of money. It does require some time and some commitment.”
Steve Costello, one of the organizers of the regional marketing campaign and Green Mountain Power’s “Ambassador of Rutland,” said the effort to work with prospective newcomers has pulled in a broad swath of the community. One family arrived at a reception, he said, and was personally greeted by Mayor David Allaire.
“He only spent five minutes there and had to run to a meeting, but that made a big impression,” Costello said.
Chad Crisp, 42, said he and his wife were looking to move from the Philadelphia suburbs to somewhere closer to his wife’s family, which lives in Quebec. The English professor turned entrepreneur said he found out about the Stay to Stay weekends while Googling about Vermont.
“I guess what hooked us is the sense of community and the welcome we received and the opportunities here, both lifestyle/outdoor-wise and career-wise,” he said.
Mike Heatly, 38-year-old builder from Colorado, came to Rutland with his wife and two young daughters to buy and rebuild one of the houses seized by the city in a tax sale.
“Seeing where Rutland had come from and where it was trying to go seemed really enticing,” he said.
Martha Perantoni, 64, also moved here from Colorado. She said she initially entered the competition for GMP’s house giveaway, but when that didn’t work out for her, she discovered it was somewhere she could buy a house. Having grown up in Barre, Perantoni said she was aware of the Rutland area.
“Rutland was always kind of the red-haired stepchild of Vermont,” she said.
Costello and others, she said, convinced her that reputation wasn’t entirely fair.
“In addition to the community spirit and the neighborhood feel people have, people here aren’t pretentious,” she said. “There’s a real down-to-earth quality. People aren’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes or be better than anyone else.”
Beyond just convincing them to come, Langston said Steve Costello’s matchmaking efforts with the local population smoothed over her family’s move.
“We had friends before we even moved here,” she said. “We have never experienced that anywhere. ... I want people to know how unique it is how helpful everyone is here and how you care so much. We’re lived a lot of places, and it’s not always like that.”