Are we witnessing a Great Tech Migration?

Person with moving boxes

Since even before the Great Recession, innovation jobs have concentrated ever more heavily in just a handful of superstar cities. Many people have long assumed that if they wanted to work in tech, they would have to live in a dense urban area where HQ was located. 

Now, with COVID-19, that assumption may no longer be holding true. Among all the changes COVID-19 has wrought, one has been the biggest shift to remote work that the world has ever seen. Companies large and small are leaning into the distributed work boom, and the trend looks likely to continue. 

What does this mean for rural America? At CORI, we believe we might be witnessing the start of what we call the Great Tech Migration: a widespread exodus of tech workers from urban areas to the small towns—where they bring their jobs with them. This potential shift—which would mark the first real rural population influx in decades—could infuse rural communities with people and tech talent that drive rural recovery. While there are real worries about economic stratification coming from wealthy urbanites moving in, we believe that with an intentional ecosystem approach this new talent, rural communities can build equitable and sustainable economies with new opportunities for longtime residents. 

As of today, there’s not yet conclusive proof that the Great Tech Migration is underway. But looking at the data, we’re beginning to notice some trends that show inklings of a significant employment shift. 

For example, in our most recent Employment Impact Update, we noted that some rural counties logged a significant increase in labor force from May to June—especially in rural areas with a high proportion of second homes. For example, San Juan County has over 350 second homes with a total population of about 600. Yet there were nearly 700 people in the San Juan County labor force in June, a sign a large number of workers there could be people now residing in their second home. In Valley County, ID, the labor force spiked by 8.9% from May to June, and the number of people employed increased by 18%. And in Flathead County, MT, the labor force jumped by 4.3% from May to June, and the number of people employed increased by 7.6%.

Looking beyond these numbers, we’re noticing the tech exodus storyline play out in small towns across the country anecdotally reporting an influx of people. 

Here’s a list of just some of what we’re reading:

These stories show that at least some small towns are undergoing consequential shifts in who lives there—with real potential ramifications for their economies and future trajectories. As this pandemic continues to reshape our economy, we at CORI will continue to watch key trends to see whether the Great Tech Migration becomes a reality.

In the meantime, if you’re an urban tech worker thinking of leaving your small studio apartment for the beauty and community of rural America, there’s certainly no time like the present. Looking to move to wide open spaces? Searching for a remote job that will let you live where you want? Let us know. We want to hear your story. 

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