The COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated a trend that was already underway: the dispersal of tech workers from coastal hubs to smaller cities throughout the country.

“This pandemic has stretched the fabric that was already tearing,” Aaron Bolzle told the New York Times. Bolzle is the executive director of Tulsa Remote, a program that offers $10,000 to remote workers who relocate to Tulsa, Okla.

Before the pandemic, millennials and older members of Generation Z were already beginning to choose smaller metro areas—like Tucson, Arizona, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Columbus Ohio—in greater proportions, according to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. The reasons for the trend are complex, but they include the country’s economic growth; people typically leave major U.S. cities as the economy recovers from a recession.

A New Trend to Shake Things Up

Now, there’s another key factor in the mix: the unprecedented shift to remote work, caused by COVID-19 restrictions. As Americans transition to remote work for the long-term, many are choosing to relocate outside of cities—while keeping their jobs. 

There’s evidence that the pandemic is accelerating a trend toward dispersed work, where tech workers live around the country while companies maintain their existing, physical headquarters. 

According to one American Community Survey, the fastest-growing commute is no commute, as full-time remote work becomes more common. And within the 34 percent of workers who are estimated to be working remotely in the pandemic, many will not go back to the office post-COVID. The research firm Gartner found that 74 percent of organizations plan to transition some of their employees to permanent remote work. The consulting company Global Workplace Analytics estimates that post-pandemic, 30 percent of the workforce will operate at least partly remote—a number that was in the low single digits before COVID. 

Some cities are already seizing on this trend, offering incentives for tech workers to make the move. Programs provide inexpensive housing and stipends of $15,000 in Topeka, Kansas, $10,000 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and $2,000 in Savannah.

Other workers are moving back with aging family members in order to be closer to them while working from home. Real estate company Redfin said page views of homes in small towns more than doubled during the last week of April compared with last year. As cities lose their nightlife allure, workers may be less likely to pay high rents and more likely to live in low-cost, midland regions.

Another factor to take into consideration when moving out of a major city is proximity to nature. Allconnect describes the top 10 states that offer the best combination of easily accessible wilderness and the internet access you need to work from home.

Below are a few cities that are up-and-coming for anyone looking to relocate and take their tech career to the next level.

Indianapolis: Fast Growth in an Attractive City

Indiana’s capital city is increasingly attracting tech talent—in-person and remotely.

Four factors combine to give the city high-quality tech hub potential. These include college-educated talent, lower costs, and access both digital (strong WiFi connectivity) and physical (an airport offering direct flights). The city also has an excellent standard of life, offering a wide variety of recreation, from sports and parks to the opera. It’s much less congested with traffic than Silicon Valley and eastern tech hubs. 

A range of companies and workers are taking notice. From 2010 to 2018, digital-service jobs in Indianapolis nearly doubled, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. Its 7.2% annual growth rate outpaced that of Los Angeles, Chicago and even Seattle. The city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development is working to foster tech growth, including a training program for unemployed tech professionals and investment in neighborhood revitalization.

A safe and low-cost city, Indianapolis is a popular option for workers holding down a remote job. 

Initiatives like One America Works are fostering tech growth in all of these cities. You can attend a virtual recruitment event in Indianapolis, learn more about Columbus, and view data and statistics about living in Pittsburgh.

Columbus: Save on Rent, Connect with Tech

The city of Columbus is rapidly attracting tech talent; start-ups and established tech companies thrive in one of the most affordable cities in the country. Columbus was named the Best City for Tech Workers by SmartAsset, a personal finance startup. Metrics included the percentage of people employed in tech and the average salary for a tech worker. 

The city is actively spurring efforts to attract top tech and business talent, according to Don DePerro, CEO of the Columbus Chamber. DePerro cited city-wide entrepreneurial events like Startup Grind and GiveBackHack, meant to unite the tech community through innovation and collaboration.

Columbus is also an increasingly bustling and exciting city to live in, anchored by the Ohio State University, nightlife options, and quieter cafes and walking paths during the day. Given its housing prices and cost of living, Columbus is one of the cheapest cities for tech workers to live in. According to CBRE, Columbus’ rent-to-tech wage ratio is the lowest in the country, at 11.9 percent. The average apartment rent for a year in 2019 is $11,392 ($949/month), and the average annual tech wage is $96,038. That’s significantly lower than the most expensive market, New York (Manhattan), where those metrics skyrocket to $4,120/month and $113,500 a year. Remote workers can save significantly by making the move to a Columbus apartment.

Pittsburgh: Low Costs and New Real Estate

Pittsburgh has been attracting top tech talent for the past decade—a result of its more affordable living options and burgeoning startup scene. 

In 2018, Pittsburgh ranked #5 on CBRE’s list of tech talent momentum markets, a report that measures cities’ abilities to attract and grow tech talent. The reason boils down to a simple equation: Pittsburgh has a high concentration of quality tech talent—from universities like Carnegie Mellon and city-based startups—and a relatively low-cost market. 

The city’s landscape also makes it attractive to remote tech workers. Recent years have seen the development of new office and multifamily properties in the older, industrial areas of the city, according to Jeffrey Ackerman the managing director of CBRE.

Pittsburgh was ranked as the most livable city in the U.S. in 2005, 2009, and 2011, in a list compiled by the Economist.  Median home prices trend lower than the national average, and the city has appealing features for a high quality of life: lush trees, miles of bike paths and walking trails, unique neighborhoods, a foodie scene and a historic sports culture. It’s home to a variety of cultural institutions—a symphony, a ballet company and renowned museums. 

The combination of low-cost housing and organic tech growth makes Pittsburgh a good option for both remote and in-office work.

How to Decide What’s Right for You

As remote work becomes more common, choosing a new city may feel more overwhelming—how should you decide when the options are essentially unlimited?

There are a number of key factors to consider when narrowing down a new home. Affordability and living standards, weather, and infrastructure—like healthcare, school systems, and traffic—are all important. And quality of life is a crucial metric: consider cities’ cultural and lifestyle profiles. Proximity to family may become more important as remote work allows employees to spend more time outside the office.

At One America Works, we work to connect growth companies and jobseekers with work arrangements and city environments where they’ll succeed. Connect with us to learn more about how we can help you choose a new city!