The chips are down in Silicon Valley.
Cost of living is sky high. Traffic sucks. And good luck finding an affordable apartment. No matter if you’re a highly skilled software engineer or a millionaire, the struggle is common in San Francisco. But with the pandemic came the freedom to live anywhere across the continental United States.
It’s come as a gift to small local governments. Seizing the opportunity, 71 small cities and towns are tempting highly skilled tech workers to relocate, upping their workforce numbers, attracting businesses, and boosting their economies.
Stimulus programs are offering a slower pace of life with a cash bonus on top.
Michigan will offer Americans USD $15,000 towards a home in several staff-strapped cities. Same with Topeka, Kansas.
Tulsa Remote is giving remote workers $10,000, free desk space, and community events in exchange for one year of commitment. It’s attracted 1,200 workers between 2018 and 2021.
Digital nomads are in full migration. Companies are outsourcing workers left right and centre. Literal Facebook support groups (Leaving California, Life After California) have tens of thousands of members.
The “next” Silicon Valley has been the subject of speculation for a while now. Rather than a specific location, could it be rural America at large?
People are the new parks
Some are calling it the new smokestack chasing. But instead of local governments bidding for factory space or office lots, they’re bidding for workers. And positivity breeds positivity. For every two skilled workers brought into the city, one new job is created.
For small towns, piecemeal, people-first investments are much more realistic than building entire laboratories, office blocks, or science parks. The formula is to bring the employees, set them up remotely, and the industry (and physical workspaces, if needed) will follow.
The changing times mean also startup founders have the opportunity to set up camp in affordable cities.
Gone are the days when anyone worth knowing was within 0.01km of Santa Clara. With more highly skilled workers moving in, founders are given a bigger pool of talent to choose from in lower cost of business areas.
Doug Waltz is an Amazon engineer whose wife is from Greensburg, Indiana, population 12,000. It’s so small, Doug thinks he might be the only Amazon engineer in a 30 mile radius.
Doug moved his family to Greensburg via MakeMyMove, a stimulus program offering $5000 to draw remote work relocators to a community “vying for talent”. It must be a nice change from the ferocious competition, 5-strong interviewer teams, “off the wall” questions, and constant reminders of your replaceability of talent hotbeds like the Bay Area.
Doug gets a year of free office space, gym membership, and childcare.
The problem is, the locals don’t.
As with all major social reshuffles, there are no perfect solutions. MakeMyMove specifies applicants must at least make USD $80,000 per year – far above Greensburg’s median income of USD $55,000. This means lower earning locals being priced out of already competitive housing markets.
Housing stock needs to be increased and infrastructure needs to be improved, but the profits have to be generated first.
If it works for America
This kind of flexible, diasporic thinking couldn’t be better suited to Australia.
Our astronomically high city living costs are already driving highly-paid, highly-skilled workers out to the sticks.
Many are finding greener pastures in the South Australian regions of Ceduna, Mount Gambier, and Port Augusta. 76% of new residents in the latter are millennials. People are making the same from-home salaries, but paying $5 for lunch rather than $15.
Blowing past what could’ve been a “who blinks first” scenario where startups wait for workers to move and workers wait for startups to move, many are simply putting their personal well being ahead of the grind and upping sticks.
For some, it’s an actively political stance – a rally against the rampant exclusivity of tech communities.
Palantir cofounder Joe Lonsdale, who moved the company out of Silicon Valley to Denver, responded to a Tweet by an entrepreneur looking to relocate with: “Come to Austin with us. Growing tech ecosystem and Texas is the best place to make a stand together for a free society.”
If nations can provide the infrastructure to support more balanced workforces across cities, a myriad of social issues – overcrowding, housing crises, gentrification, pollution – could be addressed in one.