Remote Work Could Change Where People Live
Cities and counties across the U.S. have launched programs to lure remote workers to their regions, capitalizing on pandemic-era changes that have allowed tens of millions of people, especially in industries such as technology, to work from anywhere.
Remote Work Is Here to Stay
Before the COVID-19 hit the United States, very few Americans had the option to work remotely. But when the pandemic forced companies across the country to adapt, it changed workplace norms — maybe forever.
Upwork predicts that by 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87% percent increase from pre-pandemic levels, according to a report released in December 2020.
Nine months into the pandemic, ~42% percent of the American workforce remained fully remote, the report says. And managers believed that 27% of the workforce would still be fully remote in one year, suggesting that while some workers gradually return to the office, a significant share will remain remote in the near future.
“Our research shows the long-lasting impact that remote work and COVID-19 are likely to have on how hiring managers think about their organizations,” said Upwork Chief Economist Adam Ozimek. “As businesses adapt and learn from this remote work experiment, many are altering their long-term plans to accommodate this way of working.”
Meanwhile, there has been a flood of young workers fleeing large, coastal cities since the pandemic began. Many are moving to cities with a lower cost of living, where it would be easier to buy a home.
Some officials from smaller metro regions, especially in Middle America, see these trends and wonder: Could this be an opportunity to attract young talent to my region?
$10,000 and a Free Bicycle
In late 2020, the Northwest Arkansas Council launched a program offering remote workers $10,000 and a free bicycle if they relocated to Benton and Washington counties within six months. (The bike is included because the region has 162 miles of paved trails, the 37-mile Razorback Regional Greenway, and the 322 miles of world-class mountain biking trails, its website says.)
The council, which is investing more than $1 million in the Life Works Here program, was soon flooded with applicants.
“We had 29,000 people apply for our first round, from every state and also multiple countries around the world,” said Nelson Peacock, President and Chief Executive of the Northwest Arkansas Council, in an interview with The New York Times. The applicants included James Beard-nominated chefs and Emmy Award-winning artists.
“We never expected this response,” Peacock said. After all, there were only a few dozen slots available in the first round of selections.
The program is one of a handful of similar initiatives around the country, which regional economic development organizations hope will build communities with high skill sets to attract start-ups and larger companies in the future, The Times reported. For some of the programs, the idea is that people who move will shop in local stores and pay real estate taxes, but they won’t take jobs away from locals.
The Northwest Arkansas program is specifically targeting STEAM professionals and entrepreneurs.
“Northwest Arkansas has more than 10,000 job openings right now and has a shortage of talent to fill available STEAM jobs,” the Northwest Arkansas Council’s website says. “We want to attract talent who will help us build a richer long-term talent pipeline that supports our thriving local economy. The incentive is specifically targeting remote workers — we are looking for people who can meaningfully contribute to and actively participate in our vibrant community.”
The council’s website features a cost of living calculator, which allows people to determine how much more cheaply they would be able to live if they move to the region. And a button on the website takes applicants straight to Zillow, where they can browse available houses.
“With one of the best costs of living in the nation, you can find your dream home in Northwest Arkansas,” the council’s website says.
During the pandemic, demand skyrocketed for a program offering people $10,000 to move to Tulsa, Okla., for a year, The Times reported. The program was first launched in the fall of 2018. Of the nearly 800 people who have moved to the second-largest city in Oklahoma as part of the Tulsa Remote program, 380 arrived last year.
“We had 50,000 applicants in 2020,” said Ben Stewart, the executive director of Tulsa Remote, in an interview with The Times. “We are more selective than Harvard.”
The Best States for Remote Workers
A recent study by WalletHub ranked the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia based on which provide the best conditions for working from home. The study ranked the states on work environment and living environment using 12 key metrics.
“Our data set ranges from the share of workers working from home before COVID-19 to internet cost and cybersecurity,” it says. “We also considered factors like how large and how crowded homes are in the state.”
The top 10 states that provide the best remote working conditions are:
- North Carolina
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
Although the above states were ranked as the best for remote workers, how likely is it that people would be able to purchase a home there?
Housing inventory is low across the United States, but economic research data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that it’s especially scarce in many of the top-ranked states for remote workers.
“In 2020, being confined at home — say, with children or new work requirements — may have changed people’s housing preferences,” says a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis blog. “At least temporarily. New demand for space has led to a rush on single-family homes and, naturally, a stronger-than-usual increase in prices.
The supply of housing can’t easily accommodate increases in demand, especially when they’re sudden. It takes time to buy land, plan, and build. Also, construction costs have been higher because of pandemic restrictions, shortages in materials, and increased demand. This has all translated in a dramatic decrease in the number of houses up for sale.”
In Delaware, which was ranked as the best state for remote workers, housing inventory decreased by more than 60% from February 2020 to February 2021.
The other top four states for remote workers — North Carolina, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Tennessee — also ranked among those with the largest drop in the number of available homes:
- North Carolina: -59%
- Georgia: -58%
- New Hampshire: -63%
- Tennessee: -60%
The average price of a home in those five states increased significantly from February 2020 to February 2021, data shows:
- Delaware: +6%
- North Carolina: +7%
- Georgia: +7%
- New Hampshire: +8%
- Tennessee: +7%
As states look to lure in remote workers, we can only hope that they plan to mitigate the uncertainty inspired by the current low housing inventory and high home prices across the country.
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