Workforce Location Trends

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Workforce Location Trends

There are a number of pieces of information that can be used to inform decision-making in designing a campaign to attract businesses and talent to a state. Beginning with raw data from Glassdoor, the following report includes information to plan attractive living areas for potential movers, which includes descriptions of each of the three types. Inter-state migration trends are provided, along with a link to personalize the flows to different regions. Finally, some impacts of the changing workplace are outlined.

Worker Relocation — Metro Areas and Reasons

  • The tab called Moving From/To on the attached spreadsheet details the top ten cities from which job seekers move and the top five cities selected by each. The list is ranked by the percentage of total applicants through GlassDoor. The tab called Ranking by % shows the top ten locations from which people move for work. A full list of 40 can be found in this report on page ten.
  • The data on the spreadsheet shows that most job seekers move from nearby metro areas. In other words, applicants tend to stay in the same geographic region.
  • The town with the largest number of job applicants, at 52.2 % is the college town of Providence, Rhode Island. There are two reasons for this. First, Providence is only 1.5 hours from the Boston Metro. As the metro area spreads south, worksites get closer to Providence. The city is also home to several colleges and universities — Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Providence College which provide a steady stream of graduates applying to jobs elsewhere.
  • The second largest is San Jose CA in the heart of Silicon Valley. The primary reason for leaving is the high cost of living in that area. The median home price in the valley was near $1.08 million in 2018. As tech companies spread across the country, they are luring candidates with a lower cost of living.
  • Interestingly Riverside, California; Baltimore, Maryland; and Sacramento, California are on this list. The reason is that they are close to fast-growing cities with vibrant job markets. The combination of proximity and availability acts as a magnet to job seekers.
  • New York, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Atlanta are near the bottom of the list. In the last three, the closest big city is three to four hours away. This shows employers that "geography — in addition to cost of living, taxes, pay and company culture — is an important factor to consider when choosing office locations, as it can dramatically impact their ability to attract job candidates from outside their metro area."

Planning for the Future

  • While the above data tracks movement from one metro area to another, experts in urban research project a significant change that will affect where and why people relocate. There is a strong indication that the "trend toward remote work among office employees will profoundly change metropolitan areas — both cities and suburbs."
  • The COVID pandemic hastened the trend toward working remotely. That shift is expected to accelerate two existing trends: the transition of downtowns to what experts are calling the Urban Hotel and residential suburbs to what has been labeled the Suburban Workshop. Although it is hard to predict, there is also the expectation that a location called the Exurban Metropolis will evolve. Experts expect that these "types of places will change and accommodate a more diverse set of activities. In other words, they’ll become more interesting places to be." Let's look further into each of these areas.

Urban Hotels

  • Fifty years ago dense office districts were necessary because all the administrative workers had to be in one place. While manufacturing could be in a rural area, office workers needed to be near their paper, the paper processes had to move the paper efficiently and the only way to manage the process was to watch the employees.
  • All of this began to change at the dawn of the internet age. However, the original futurist's predictions that people would work remotely in the US turned into remote work being outsourced to cheaper foreign companies. The Work-From-Home movement grew slowly until the pandemic hit, at which point it exploded. There is now 42 percent of the U.S. labor force working from home full-time. The need for Urban Hotels is predicted to grow.
  • Urban Hotels does not mean that nothing but hotels will be located in the downtown areas, although hotels will be an important part of providing some necessary infrastructures. Urban hotels will exist primarily to support face-to-face contact that cannot be replicated in any other way.
  • Although videoconferencing experienced a large boom as a result of the pandemic, it is not a panacea. There are many advantages to in-person meetings including body language cues that are read, human connections are created and flourish and trust gets built. There is a reality to room energy that cannot be experienced through the internet,
  • The downtown metro areas are expected to provide the infrastructure for these face-to-face meetings. Hotel meeting rooms, coffee shops, restaurants, conference rooms in office buildings, and co-working facilities are expected to grow to provide appropriately sized and costed locations. If face-to-face is often required, people will want to be located in the area.
  • This will likely result in a lowered demand for commercial real estate with acres of cubicles and an increased demand for meeting areas of all sizes and the services to support these types of meetings, including food services and mass transit.

Suburban Workshops

  • Originally "suburbs" were a separation between the dirty, smelly, polluted city and "the pastoral setting believed to be required for healthy family life." The option was primarily exclusively available to the upper class. However, after WWII, the advent of financially available cars and GI home loans, the suburbs became attainable to the middle class. Today most Americans live in the suburbs.
  • Key issues for suburban working parents are driven by the geometry of commuting. The key questions commuters considered were "How far away from work do I have to live to afford the house I want? How much time am I willing to devote to driving every day? How much separation from my home life am I willing to tolerate? " For dual-income families, it's also about triangulation. "How do we optimize our daily activity pattern when it involves driving to work (often in different directions) and shuttling kids around?"
  • Working from home makes all those calculations unnecessary. The trend toward remote work will transform the Suburban Workshop as well — in at least three ways.
  • First, the suburbs will begin to look more like a city. One prediction is that the crash of the retail brick and mortar market might provide an opportunity for empty retail spaces in a local strip mall to be converted into co-working spaces for people who can work remotely but don’t want to work at home. So, the strip mall may become part of the Suburban Workshop.
  • Second, people will demand more amenities closer to home. Households without children go out more often. In the city, they have many options. They will want those options near home. Once again, empty retail space may be repurposed to innovative bars and restaurants.
  • Finally, millennials will move to the suburbs. They will move there for the same reasons their parents and grandparents did — for "schools, space and a little peace and quiet." They will, however, bring their "urban sensibility with them. Millennials are going to want places and spaces that are charming and walkable and have a lot of amenities — places where they can reconstruct city life to the greatest extent possible. "

Exurban Metropolis

  • There are many reasons why experts find it difficult to predict the expansion of exurban metropolises.
  • There are people who only commute occasionally that chose to live much farther from the city centers. One example is firefighters who work one or two 24-hour shifts a week and have moved their families 60 miles or more from their work. So, there will be people who will make that decision.
  • Some people are reluctant to leave their established networks of family, friends, businesses, and churches. Others will simply not want to be six miles from the corner store or spend their weekend on a lawn tractor.
  • Some experts predict the "age of dispersion" where employees could be located anywhere. Other experts disagree. One reason is they expect that working from home will ultimately be a part-time model, so people will stay close enough to get into the office in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Another reason is their perception that most people won't move too far from "home". Data shows that "internal migration within the United States has dropped dramatically since the 1980s, across all groups and all geographies." The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 14% of the people living in the U.S. move within the U.S. each year.
  • The real wildcard seems to be the idea that it is "impossible to know if white-collar work will even stay in the U.S. once it’s not connected to a job center. If you can work remotely full time, will you be able to take your job with you to some distant location?" Will people move to better climates, cheaper countries, better health care? The answers are unknown.

Internal Migration Trends

  • The Census Bureau published a 2018 Current Population Survey and American Community Survey data. The report highlighted some trends in how people are moving within the United States:
    • Internal migration rates are at its lowest since the Census Bureau began the surveys in the 1940s. Moves declined significantly during the Great Recession of 2008 and have stayed low since.
    • Of those that move within the U.S., most move within counties.
    • More people are leaving states in the Midwest and the Northeast than are entering, resulting in a "net negative internal migration rate. "
    • Generally speaking, the sunbelt states are seeing a "net influx from internal migration. "
    • Some large cities are also experiencing a net negative internal migration rate. For example, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago would be shrinking if it were not "for the influx of migrants from other countries. "
    • Larger cities that are experiencing growth include Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Jacksonville.
    • "More people are moving out of cities and into suburbs, smaller towns, and rural areas than are moving into urban areas."
  • ESRI provides an interactive map that allows users to map the migration between states. Users can create custom flow maps, as can be seen in the samples are shown below. The first image shows outbound migration from Dallas County, Texas, while the second image shows the inbound migration into Dallas County, Texas.


The Future of Remote Work in the US

  • Economists from Harvard Business School predict that one in six workers in the US will be working remotely at least two days a week. A survey by the "global freelancing platform UpWork found that one-fifth of the workforce could be entirely remote after the pandemic."
  • These shifts could lead to significant changes to America’s cultural, economic, and political future.


Remote Work Will Increase Free-Agent Entrepreneurship

  • There was a time when religious congregations, unions, and even bowling leagues provided a social network for people. As those networks decline, the last community left standing was the workplace. Up to now, it has been the one place where the "majority of adults ages 25 to 55 have kept showing up, almost every day, of almost every week."
  • Working from home, the employees' connection to the office is diminished, and their connection to the world outside the office expands. People on Facebook are as close as those on Slack and Zoom. Slowly but inexorably, the work-from-home model can "weaken the bonds between workers within companies and strengthen the connections between some workers and professional networks outside the company."
  • According to research by the Gallup organization, "having a close work friend increases fulfillment, productivity, and even company loyalty; on the flip side, loneliness in the office can affect both professional and personal well-being."
  • As employees realize that their connection to their employer is virtual, they may realize that, if they are going to be alone, they may as well make more money by going out on their own. This may lead to an increase in entrepreneurship in America.

A Superstar-City Exodus Will Reshape American Politics

  • "In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Manhattan and Brooklyn by about 1 million votes—more than Donald Trump’s margins of victory in the states of Florida, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania combined. In election after election, liberals dominate in cities, running up huge margins in downtown areas while narrowly losing in sparser places."
  • As more Democrats exit the liberal enclave of the metro areas, the Democrats will begin to outnumber the conservative voters in that region. That is happening already, as pundits and pollsters predict both Arizona and Georgia may be won by Joe Biden in the upcoming election.
  • Most of the movers are young and middle-aged, college-educated, white-collar workers from urban areas. "This demographic shift could reshape American politics. A more evenly distributed liberal base could empower Democrats in the Sun Belt; accelerate the Rust Belt’s conservative shift; strengthen the moderate wing of the party by forcing Democrats to compete on more conservative turf, and force the GOP to adapt its own national strategy to win more elections."
  • Analysts note that this migration is not just caused by the pandemic. "Population declines in big liberal cities and migration to red-state suburbs were both already happening in 2019."