NYTimes: America’s Biggest Cities Were Already Losing Their Allure. What Happens Next?
This weekend the New York Times weighed in on what many of us urban dwellers have been seeing for some time — economic migration to the suburbs and beyond.
Read the article on the New York Times site here.
The key driver, most obviously, is cost of living issues. The majority of people under 35 that I work with in downtown Toronto have given up on the idea of ever owning a home in the city, and rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto and Vancouver averages well over $2,000/month.
Lifestyle factors are a big issue as well. Choosing to raise a family in the city — where the monthly childcare cost for a single child might be bigger than a mortgage payment—is a non-starter for many. Proximity to aging parents living in a rural community might be a reason to leave the city, as might access to recreational space, less pollution and congestion, and an affordable home with a yard, enough space for a garden and a workshop.
A significant enabling factor is the rise of remote work. At TWG employees have the option of working from home 2 days per week and many are fully remote, something that made the transition to working 100% remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic a bit less of an adjustment. Numerous tech companies have been operating fully remotely for years, including Stripe (2,000 employees), InVision (700 employees), and Automattic (the company behind Wordpress) with over 850 employees in 62 countries.
While it delivered a punishing blow to most businesses, the pandemic also pushed a lot of companies, willingly and otherwise, to embrace and support employees working from home.
When we emerge from our economic quarantine, many of the companies still standing will have survived because of remote work, not despite it.
All of this points to a trend that has reflected in population data. In the biggest, most expensive cities in North America, population growth has been slowing in recent years.
Of course, you can’t chalk this up solely to a tech worker exodus to Zoom and Slack-enabled farm country. In fact many Canada’s major cities continue to follow strong growth curves. But as the Times article points out, remote work has created unprecedented mobility opportunities within the sector. Cities like Tulsa, OK and the states of Vermont and Alabama have launched $10,000 cash incentive programs to lure tax-paying and (hopefully) free-spending remote workers to relocate. Sites like NomadList cater to globe hopping remote workers who are happy to spend months or years abroad, and payroll startups like PapayaGlobal are taking the pain out of international currency (and crypto) payments and tax regulations.
It’s definitely too early to tell how big of an impact the current pandemic will have on remote work, but it has definitely accelerated the trend. Companies that find they can support significant numbers of remote workers will start to realize competitive advantages in attracting talent while reducing payroll and office rent over competition that is slower to adapt. And many well-paid tech workers will be reticent to return to long commutes and tiny condos when anywhere with fast internet can be their workplace.
— RS, April 22, 2020