A Moving Story

Twice during the '90s, Vermont was ranked as Allied Van Lines' No. 1 magnet state, living up to its billing as "the beckoning country"

by John Dupeedupee

For the past seven years, I have been tracking the migration patterns of households in and out of Vermont. What would cause any sane and reasonably busy individual to do this? Aside from underlying curiosity, my motivation has been to answer the oft-posed question, "Are they coming or going?"

Since 1977, I have owned and operated Chase Moving & Storage in Williston, an agent for Allied Van Lines. Over the years, friends and acquaintances who have observed the ever-increasing urbanization of northwestern Vermont have continually asked about migration patterns: "Are they coming or going?" In the late '70s and '80s I would respond with an opinion based on absolutely no empirical evidence. In 1992, I was approached by a friend who makes his living developing real estate. Fearful that he might be relying on me to provide accurate information or worse yet that he might use my opinion as a basis for deciding to build or not to build it seemed like a good time to forsake my casual observations and provide reliable data.

I turned to my own van line, Allied, and the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) an industry information clearinghouse.

For many years, Allied Van Lines has issued a "magnet states" report, which tracks the company's shipments. Every year since 1977, Allied has reported Vermont to be a magnet state, which is defined by the company as a state that imports more households than it exports. This activity is expressed in percentages. Twice, during the 1990s, Vermont was ranked as Allied's No. 1 magnet state. This would certainly indicate that Vermont was living up to its billing as "the beckoning country" (the name given us by Al Moulton, former state secretary of development in a tourist promotion campaign). However, the Allied numbers reflected only one van line. What was the experience of the other major van lines?

dupeeChart of Vermont inbound and outbound Moves 1994-1999

The AMSA, among its other tasks, gathers moving information from all the major van lines: Allied, Atlas, Bekins, Mayflower, northAmerican, Red Ball, Stevens, United and Wheaton. Vermont has no Atlas, Red Ball or Stevens presence but is served by the other major van lines. The AMSA numbers do not include the many moves accomplished through the use of rental equipment (Ryder, U-Haul, et cetera), nor do they include the numbers of the lesser-known van lines. Nonetheless, the AMSA wide-angle compilation provides a less parochial view of the migration patterns of Americans. It had become apparent to me that my real estate developer friend was not the only person in northwestern Vermont interested in Vermont's migratory patterns, and that this would be useful information to the entire business community.

In 1989, I began tracking and disseminating the AMSA numbers. Initially, I looked only at the state as a whole, since numbers for the Burlington area were not available. By the early '90s, Burlington was designated an MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area), and those numbers also became available.

From 1992 on, the AMSA migration statistics indicate Vermont is a desirable relocation choice. It is difficult to know from these numbers alone if Vermont's attraction is job related, lifestyle related or some other combination of motives. It is reasonable to assume the cost of housing and electricity are not influential factors.

Since 1992, Vermont's inbound households expressed as a percentage of all Vermont interstate moves has never been less than 51.4 percent and as high as 57.8 percent. The Burlington MSA, which represents just under half the total Vermont activity, has fluctuated from as high as 55.4 percent to as low as 41.6 percent. It is interesting to note that from 1995 to 1997, the Burlington MSA actually exported households while the state as a whole imported households. (see sidebar: Who's coming to Vermont?)

In other words, while the state continued to import more households than were exported, the Burlington MSA was losing households. Although it is impossible to know the reason for this anomaly, the high price of Chittenden County real estate may have been driving the flatlanders who are used to commuting to Addison, Washington and Franklin counties. Nonetheless, the numbers reflect a similar pattern year after yearmore people move into Vermont than move out of Vermont.

The latest numbers from the AMSA (1999) indicate the Burlington MSA (54.2 percent) and the state (55.5 percent) continue to be perceived as the beckoning country by those outside the state.

Howard J. Wall, an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, has gained some attention for using migration patterns to identify the best places to live in America. Mr. Wall made a list of the country's most livable cities by tracking migration data. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal: "People's choices about where to live are rational, based on what gives them the greatest satisfaction, Mr. Wall says. Americans judge, and demonstrate, 'livability' with their feet, he adds."

I have always felt that AMSA's migration data are indicative of the general economic health of the county as well as the state of Vermont. It was gratifying to have the Federal Reserve Bank economist validate that premise.

Are they coming or going? They are coming. They have been coming, and we have every reason to believe they will keep on coming until such time as the perceived satisfaction and livability of Vermont declines to an unattractive level.

Who's coming to Vermont?

Can we tell if the people moving into Vermont are more affluent than those moving out of Vermont? No definitive answer is provided in the migration statistics compiled by the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA). "But we can guess," says John Dupee. "

Moving companies base their charges on weight and mileage. Therefore, we are in a position to look at the amount of weight moved in an average shipment. When we look at the weight of these shipments, a pattern emerges. Without exception, the moves into Vermont average more weight than the moves out. This would suggest that those people moving into Vermont have more movable possessions than those who are leaving."

The AMSA numbers do not reflect the many commercial entities that move into Vermont, Dupee notes. "Many of these businesses move to Vermont for the same reasons as private individuals, while others move to Vermont to support clients already residing in VermontIDX, IBM, Husky, et cetera," he says. "Good telecommunications and good transportation are key factors for business. These businesses bring with them a vitality that contributes to our critical mass."

Originally published in January 2001 Business People-Vermont