Throughout his campaign for governor, Phil Scott has tossed out the notion that Vermont’s population must grow. He offers an ambitious target: a total population of 700,000 within 15 years. That’s roughly 75,000 more people.
Which is ridiculous, impossible, absurd. But that won’t stop him from saying it.
(Matt Dunne said the same thing in the primary race; it was just as ridiculous coming from him.)
Let’s start with the fact that he’s swimming against very powerful national tides. America’s population has been growing in southern and western sectors, and staying the same or shrinking in the midwest and northeast. There are a number of reasons for this, among them being climate, natural resources, and far greater immigration in the south and west.
Now, a couple of points made by VTDigger’s Jon Margolis in an essay posted earlier this year. For starters, there’s the fact that such growth is unprecedented without a tangible underlying cause:
States experience that kind of growth only after a discovery of natural resources (such as the California Gold Rush of 1849 or North Dakota’s Bakken Shield oil and gas in 2006) or when the federal government decides to invest billions in military, aerospace or energy projects.
In all its history, Vermont has had but one period of rapid population growth. It was in the 1960s and 1970s. The federal investment that made it possible was completion of interstates 89 and 91. Vermont’s version of “gold” was lots of cheap land…
That ain’t happening again, especially if Scott’s Republican buddies take control in Washington. Indeed, if the federal budget were to endure anything like the cuts the GOP would like to impose, small rural states like Vermont and its hypothetical Governor Scott would be royally screwed.
“Aside from the decades between 1960-80, Vermont’s population has never climbed with anything like the speed the candidates are talking about,” said University of Vermont historian Dona Brown. “In fact it has barely climbed at all since the period of its first settlement.”
And how, exactly, would Phil Scott bend the arc of history in his direction?
Scott acknowledged that he did not have a detailed plan for trying to increase the state’s population but said he wanted to “begin a conversation” about the matter and “look at every opportunity” to attract more people to the state.
So, the sheer force of his will, I guess?
Simply put, a tide of Americans is not going to suddenly uproot and move in the same direction — a direction counter to national trends and to our own two centuries-plus of history — based on some encouraging words and maybe some modest incentives for young working families. Not gonna happen.
In truth, there is only one way to get anything close to his desired population target: by throwing Vermont’s doors wide open to immigrants and refugee resettlement.
Last November, I wrote a purposefully exaggerated piece entitled “Five Thousand Syrians,” which proposed the settlement of 5,000 Syrian refugees in Vermont’s three most downtrodden cities — two thousand each in St. Johnsbury and Rutland, and one thousand in Bennington.
Immigrants, despite the rhetoric of hateful scumbuckets like Donald J. Trump, are a strong net positive for the economy. They are generally hardworking, they are anxious to build a new life, they are incredibly appreciative of stuff we take for granted — security and opportunity, for instance.
A substantial influx of Syrians would be an incredible shot in the arm for our depressed areas in the northeast and southwest. Just imagine, rundown houses rebuilt and restored by grateful Syrians, and formerly empty storefronts bustling with markets and ethnic restaurants.
I wrote that before Rutland Mayor Chris Louras touched off an epidemic of the fantods by proposing a modest 100 Syrians. (Also before national Republicans lost their shit and nominated said scumbucket for President.) Given the reaction in Rut Vegas, it’s clear that the city is completely unprepared for a larger settlement.
And given the fact that Phil Scott managed to lose the primary vote to Bruce Lisman in the city of Rutland and the surrounding area, I doubt he’s going to publicly advocate for any sort of refugee resettlement. Indeed, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he even throws his weight behind Mayor Louras, or appears with him on the campaign trail.
Which is a damn shame, really, because (1) his talk of increasing our population by 75,000 in 15 years is complete eyewash, and (2) we’re missing a great opportunity.
In the northeast, old industrial cities like Lewiston, Maine and Schenectady, New York have climbed out of decades of decline by welcoming refugees and immigrants. In my old stomping grounds of metro Detroit, one of the thrivingest communities is Dearborn, which boasts the largest Arab population of any city in North America.
Yeah, I said “boasts.” If you’re a foodie and you find yourself in metro Detroit, pay a visit to the Super Greenland Market on Warren Avenue. Amazing place, if you don’t mind being one of the only white people in a sea of Arabs. That make you nervous, bunky?
But I digress. Point is, Phil Scott should stop talking about a dramatic and unprecedented rise in Vermont’s population unless (1) he comes up with some concrete ideas for making it happen, and/or (2) he enthusiastically advocates for more refugee and immigrant settlment here.
Not holding my breath on either score.