About two years ago, Paul Budnitz pulled up stakes and moved to Burlington, Vermont. Nothing unusual about that — this city of 42,000 on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain has long attracted outdoorsy young families. What is unusual is where Budnitz moved from: Boulder, Colorado.
You don’t often hear of people fleeing Colorado’s technology and outdoors mecca. But Budnitz, founder of the grown-up toy company Kidrobot and the handmade bicycle manufacturer Budnitz Bicycles, didn’t care for the way his city was changing. “It started to feel too Silicon Valley-ish — quite wealthy and getting more so,” he says. So he moved to Burlington.
Not only was he able to find investors for his social-media venture, Ello, Budnitz also discovered the kind of community he thought no longer existed. “Working in Vermont helps inspire original thinking,” he says. “Vermont is the America that didn’t get screwed up. It’s just doing its thing — either 40 years behind or 40 years ahead of everyone else, depending how you look at it.”
Burlington, of course, has always attracted a certain kind of seeker. Think Bernie Sanders, Jake Burton, or Ben and Jerry, out-of-towners (or “flatlanders,” as they’re known here) with big ideas about community, food, business, and the environment, who successfully turned Burlington into the U.S. capital of sustainability. It still gets its share of shaggy-haired dreamers (and ski bums), but today’s migrants are more like Budnitz — tech-savvy but laid-back, in search of a place where you can sell globally while enjoying an actual life locally.
Dan White, for instance, left a job at Groupon in Chicago four years ago to launch a deal site in Burlington. “I have a nice walk to work instead of commuting an hour and a half every day, and I can break out at five o’clock for drinks,” he says. “I think about all those hours I’m taking back each week — pure moments of relaxation.” If he needs to travel, the city’s airport has direct flights to cities like New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. And if he is craving some culture, Montreal is only a two-hour-long drive away.
White, who is not married, lives in an apartment downtown. Families flock to neighborhoods like South End, where $350,000 will get you a cozy colonial on a tree-lined street. Burlington ranks as one of America’s healthiest cities, so your neighbors will keep you healthy, whether you’re a runner, paddler, cyclist, or yogi. And if it’s a powder day at Sugarbush or Stowe, you can expect most of your appointments to cancel.
The city is small enough that there are, basically, no degrees of separation — everyone knows everyone, and community service is a contact sport. Whether serving on a neighborhood committee or the school board, coaching kids’ sports, or grilling a mayoral candidate in a neighbor’s living room while sipping Heady Toppers, everyone has a chance to make a difference — and is expected to.
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