10 Cities, Towns, and Regions Primed to Benefit From People Working Remotely
Updated: Aug 19, 2022
The Central Business District (CBD) has become common vernacular among urbanists for decades now. Where as agglomeration and density had become the inherent DNA in visibly quantifying a company or even an industry's presence, desktops on partitioned cubes and rows of swivel chairs might find themselves akin to a black and white photo in a Gen Alpha's middle school textbook.
One important distinction is that work-from-home may disrupt the classic CBD, but more so in the "central" abbreviation than the "business district" shorthand, as business districts stand to thrive more than ever in a remote world.
The difference? They'll be distributed just as workforces will be distributed. "Anyone want to check out this mid-sized town's 'DBD'?" is a phrase that could soon be couched more in reality than fiction.
A recent Rise of Remote Virtual Event Series co-created by Upwork and Economic Innovation Group (EIG) addressed the geographical implications of remote work across the contiguous United States as well as internationally.
The panel was mixed on the velocity at which reshaping could occur as well as its potential reach. The consensus seemed to be that any sort of drastic transformation would happen in phases, with the outer bands of current metros thriving and becoming more exurban and affluent destinations such as a Lake Tahoe, Telluride, or Nantucket seeing the first uptick in permanent re-location for well-to-do white-collar workers.
But where does the permeation go from there? While 40-something executives might flock to the "low-hanging fruit" growth areas, there's still the potential to reel in the younger remote workforce to sub-market cities offering actual remote-relocation incentive programs (Tulsa is one early example) or Lake Tahoe-lite regions that are more under the radar and notably more affordable.
Despite not capturing headlines, there remain large swaths of this country with natural fabric and cheap housing stock that could stand to benefit from a rise in telecommuting.
Some of these regions may even be classified as economically distressed or stagnant. One interesting point brought up in the virtual conference was this idea of less influx to these areas, but at minimum, less attrition in their existing talent pool.
While physical nodes of urban, central commerce hubs have had a magnetic pull on young adults seeking more skilled labor outside of the heartland or rural regions along the coast, the advent of laptops, Zoom sessions, and a willingness of companies to come to talent rather than the other way around could be what unlocks the potential for communities to flourish simply by avoiding net loss.
Of course, the shifting of labor distribution is a fluid paradigm and truly at the beginning of the S-curve. While labor markets are in flux, seismic shifts are slow to percolate until de-risking takes place across industries.
A hybrid model may not allow people to move far beyond exurban locations if they still need to commute a percentage of the time, while low-cost of living destinations won't be as attractive if there's a wage adjustment depending on where people work.
Is Salesforce going to pay San Francisco prices to someone in the Ozarks? Is there going to be a codified protection for this class of remote workers that says they have to? That's a discussion beyond the scope of this article, but one worth pondering.
Finally, when it comes to areas that may mimic a Lake Tahoe or Austin Texas Hill Country experience, there remain barriers in the ecosystem for building out that "DBD" in these regions, whether that be accessible networking, co-working outposts, or broadband capacity.
In times of disruption, questions will be ubiquitous but to let them overshadow the ceiling that may exist before us would be a disservice. So within the context of the prism above, here are ten distinct geographic beneficiaries of an increasingly remote world.
Population: 402,324 (US Census Bureau)
Tulsa is a natural city to include on this list because of its propensity to directly attract remote employees by incentivizing them to establish roots through Tulsa Remote. The sleek website and program with the tagline "We'll pay you to work from Tulsa. You're going to love it here." offers a $10,000 cash grant, with some upfront and the rest paid in stipends.
The program also aims to establish a peer group of remote workers, providing partnered co-working space and events.
The art-deco city puts its culture at its forefront, which consists of a music scene, an art/dance ecosystem, cafes and breweries, and vast parkland, including Gathering Place – a 66-acre riverfront destination.
It's a bold strategy to draw in new residents and cultivate a community that has similar DNA to the Austin's and Nashville's of the world, despite not attracting similar headlines or "trendy" write-ups.
It's also more of an upstream approach as opposed to the downstream method of attracting massive companies via tax incentives, which may result in less stickiness than intentionally courting individual talent.
But Tulsa being somewhat of a best-kept secret has created a market inefficiency where its cost hasn't exactly risen to match its quality of life, which in addition to culture, also boasts a temperate climate and high walkability.
As young professionals realize freedom from the tether to a physical office, Tulsa could become an interesting outpost with overall cost of living 58 percent lower than San Francisco and housing coming in at a striking 83 percent lower, according to data consolidated by NerdWallet.
It also beats out the flashy places to move, with housing 34 percent lower than Nashville and 42 percent lower than Austin – two cities often paraded as cheaper alternatives to the Bay Area.
This positions Tulsa as a "value city" without the trendy market premium. Pair that with the city's strategic initiative to help integrate and transition remote employees, and it stands to be a clear winner in where digital nomads ultimately plant roots.
Population: 302,305 (US Census Bureau)
Pittsburgh remains one of the most underrated cities in the United States. One of the major hubs of early industrialization in the US, it earned the moniker "Steel City" before confronting a heavy decline as blue-collar jobs were ripped from the region, along with their respective corporate headquarters.
Left in the deconstruction of the steel economy is an aesthetically appealing gem of a skyline that fronts the Ohio River, with the Allegheny and Monongahela flowing through city blocks and three yellow bridges merging as a gateway to downtown.
The city center has the Andy Warhol Museum, a Convention Center, and the highly-lauded PNC ballpark. A smattering of colleges and universities are spread in and around the metro, including Carnegie Melon and some of the biggest names in tech have opened offices.
This leaves the Mt. Washington neighborhood and the historic brick row houses in the North End as spots ripe to absorb remote employees. Housing costs are 81 percent lower than New York City, 71 percent lower than San Francisco, and 62 percent lower than Washington, DC.
For perspective, housing costs are 71 percent higher than Tulsa, but this makes Pittsburgh a uniquely suitable destination for those who still want to live on the East Coast while still cutting costs they'd combat in hotter markets.
As far as hiring, Pittsburgh's tech job market increased rather than declined during the pandemic, with hometown PNC Bank being a major catalyst. With a myriad of banks downtown and a pivot to fintech, Pittsburgh could shift to becoming a banking software city where people live and work in affordable, stable housing and are a just short trip away from the office if need be. The Steel City's budding start-up scene could also help keep local grads close to home.
That's good news for Pittsburgh, an industrial town laden with bridges, with telecommuting possibly bridging the gap for New Yorkers and Bay Area professionals as they consider an inland rust belt city with a hip, coastal flare.
Population: 609,032 (US Census Bureau)
This is a takeaway from Matthew E. Khan who participated in the "Rise of Remote" panel, and has written about urban development in post-industrial cities. He made the salient point that Baltimore could become a latch-on residential enclave for people who do business in the Washington, DC area.
The commute is around an hour and remote work could spark a move to Baltimore, primarily if young couples in both the public and private sector of DC start to see the Maryland city to the northeast as their quasi-backyard.
There's a burgeoning demand for housing in Baltimore, with sales at a decade-high this past March. This tight supply could possibly lead to the renovation of row houses dotting multiple Baltimore neighborhoods, a near certainty if DC residents get opportunistic and capitalize on the type of affordability that enables them to have more livable setups – ones with enough room for a designated home office or more outdoor space.
This DC to Baltimore pipeline will be fueled by aforementioned housing costs that are 50 percent lower, compounded by the grip and sustainability of telecommuting in this region. A report from The Greater Washington Partnership, estimates that teleworking in the DC area could increase fivefold after the pandemic.
The city agrees with this roadmap and has opened a program "Buying Into Baltimore" which offers $5,000 to contribute to a down payment on a home if you get a fixed-rate mortgage. The incentivized loan is then forgiven in phases over a five-year horizon.
Young people are more likely to want to live in cities post-pandemic due to the social benefits and networking opportunities. This means it's time for cities like Baltimore to pounce and try to attract young talent as though it's square one. Baltimore's location and affordability can make it a breeding ground, and like Pittsburgh, the city could let transplants dictate growth and lifestyle.
Baltimore may be more primed for reinvention than anywhere else on this list.
Population: 81,479 (US Census Bureau)
Kennewick falls under the classification of a potential exurban hub to grow out of the remote work movement. Its proximity to Seattle very much pushes the outer bounds at roughly three hours driving distance, but it's the center of the Tri-Cities along with Richland and Pasco.
There are a tributary of reasons why Kennewick could be a great fit for remote workers, first of which is that the town is right in the midst of the Columbia River and its Yakima and Snake offshoots. This gives the Pacific Northwest town natural desert beauty, but also some greenery and a fairly attractive climate, with minimal rain and a warmer annual temperature.
Then consider a tributary of companies: Amazon, Microsoft, and Zillow. Microsoft has indicated they want to enable every employee to work remotely up to 50 percent of the time, but some employees will have the option to work-from-home permanently with occasional "touchdown" trips to the office, their HQ being a massive footprint in Redmond, WA.
Meanwhile, Zillow plans to hire 2,000 new employees as part of a distributed workforce. The company will still retain its office footprint in downtown Seattle for collaboration, flexibility, and meeting purposes but it won't be designed to accommodate the conventional day-to-day operations it had in the past.
Amazon actually already has a significant Customer Service Center in Kennewick and will allow corporate employees from its downtown pool to work remotely two days a week and up to four total weeks at a domestic location.
Given a dramatic shift in employee preference to work remotely and lower their cost of living, Amazon might be smart to consider expanding its office footprint in Kennewick, promoting an inflow of its workforce to the region.
Compared to Seattle, Kennewick has cost of living that's 38 percent lower. Home prices are 56 percent lower. According to NerdWallet's Data, median rent for a two-bedroom is $2,724 in Seattle compared to $958 in the Tri-City area. Housing prices for homes have a $400,000 gap to boot.
What Kennewick lacks in walkability, it makes up for by being immersed in wine country. An agricultural haven, wineries are sprinkled throughout the region and are a common tourist attraction, to go along with an eclectic downtown and water activities along the rivers and Clover Island.
The 103-Acre Vista Field is currently undergoing massive redevelopment plans. Formerly a municipal airport, the phased development calls for 750,000 SF of commercial/office space and 1,000 residential units at max completion. The reimagined urban core could be a cornerstone area for remote employees.
If you read the tea leaves or rather the vineyard grapes, Kennewick and the Tri-Cities in general could become an epicenter for tech workers to buy up larger housing stock, raise their families, invest in small vineyards, and even live on the waterfront. All this while working remotely and commuting occasionally to the Seattle metro area for a few days each month or quarter to touch base.
South Bend, IN
Population: 102,037 (US Census Bureau)
Known for being home to Notre Dame University, and more recently, the city behind the "mayor" portion of presidential candidate "Mayor Pete" Buttigieg's campaign (Now Transportation Secretary), there's a lot more to like for South Bend than football or former White House aspirations.
Remote work's ability to keep grads in the region is something to watch with hopeful ambition.
Buttigieg had already revamped downtown South Bend, making it more walkable, boosting storefront commerce, opening two new hotels, and also repairing or demolishing over 1,000 distressed homes.
In addition, he helped private entrepreneurs repurpose the city's largest factory, the Studebaker, into 800,000 SF of office space that currently houses modern tech and healthcare firms, forming "The Renaissance District."
If that transformation happened to a physical dilapidated building, then why not see a distributed workforce fill up cheap homes all across South Bend, turning them into individual employee home-office "HQ's" and cultivating a community teeming with young professionals, one's who could patronize, co-work, and connect at local downtown businesses and also lift up local residents who could have much more optionality in their labor market, especially if they too, were beneficiaries of better education, training, and resources.
What better place to rope in this new talent pool than where they're already getting their college degrees in the first place – Notre Dame.
Previously a springboard away from the state itself, or more likely just a four-year stint for out-of-state students, Notre Dame grads could become a veracious cohort of the "knowledge economy" right in the heart of a revived rust-belt city.
Instead of departing for the physical offices of the coasts, they could create a local foothold – one that would benefit from a compounding effect and become increasingly more attractive as more and more people bought in. A relatively new fiber optic network has been improving telecommunications in the region and would make this outline much more feasible.
That said, this is likely a longer-term vision, best nurtured by both public and private investment, such as monetary incentives, programs, or possibly even outreach from Notre Dame itself, but there's at least the fragment of a blueprint: one that could convince newly-minted grads to save money, build equity in starter homes, all the while making decent salaries from out-of-state enterprises.
Maybe larger companies capitalize and take up some small office footprints in new buildings downtown to form a hub and spoke model. With St. Jospeh River running through an improving downtown and Lake Michigan just 20 miles away, there are certainly worse places one could work remotely.
Population: 42,545 (US Census Bureau)
Here's a college town that could produce the Notre Dame-South Bend results much more quickly by way of University of Vermont (UVM).
Burlington, VT is on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the larger lakes in the United States, and is woven among a variety of peaks popular for outdoor recreation, such as skiing, camping, mountain biking, and hiking.
While the winters are harsh being so close to Canada, the fall is a popular tourist spot when the mountain ranges become red-orange-yellow chameleons, displaying some of the best fall leaves in the country.
Burlington hits the scenic, off-the-grid check box for remote employees looking to get away from congested cities, but it's far from an entirely sleepy town.
Home to the University of Vermont as well as teaching hospital UVM Medical Center, its population increases during the school year, and unlike other college regions, the downtown is a versatile-use case for all residents.
Church Street is the central hub in Burlington and a bonafide retail and entertainment district. Downtown is comprised of low-rise buildings in well-kept condition, some with 19th century architectural heritage.
There's a music and arts ecosystem in the post-industrial South End, and Burlington International Airport services flights across the entire Eastern seaboard (JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, Boston and both DC airports) as well as central launch points in Chicago (O'Hare), Dallas, Atlanta, and Denver.
Its social demographics are a great fit for those coming from the coasts too, with progressive politics and an environmentally conscious disposition. Burlington is one of only a few dozen cities globally to have its electrical grid powered entirely by renewable energy. The area is also EV friendly with charging stations, and the agricultural economy means farm-to-table restaurants and organic health-focused businesses are in high supply.
There's even a bit of a growing tech fabric with General Electric Healthcare developing software, General Dynamics, and also the Dealer.com HQ, which is an automotive sales platform with a headcount over 1,000.
For the region, Burlington housing costs come at a premium – especially in the Hill Section and University District – but still pale in comparison to San Francisco (63 percent lower), New York City (76 percent lower), and Boston (40 percent lower).
An NPR report from last November, covered Burlington in particular and exposed an ecosystem budding in the soil, but it wasn't an outflow of maple syrup but rather of what people termed "the remotes."
The Vermont city had already been the benefactor of high-wage, knowledge workers gravitating toward the area with a reclusive, scenic, cost-of-living formula in mind, an ideology that's bound to drive Americans across the country to replicate this rural migration pattern. Vermont transplants were up 103 percent during the heigh of the pandemic (NPR).
While that extra boost is possibly temporary, it doesn't have to be. Vermont's Center for Emerging Technologies had already built out co-working space in one of those old, victorian buildings well before Covid-19. This could serve as a case-study for how to best integrate remote employees and cultivate a collaborative network once only seen in world-class CBDs.
Like the concept laid out for South Bend, it would be interesting to see Burlington retain UVM talent as they choose to populate the college-town long-term, bringing sustainable economic jolts to the type of region that previously would have needed an anchor company.
While more remote workers in places like Burlington could simply transfer the expensive housing of the Bay Area and bid up prime local neighborhoods, pricing out current residents, the hope is that skilled-workers entering the area will redirect the spotlight of the companies hiring them, offering the chance for local kids coming up through the K-12 public school systems to be considered for higher paying jobs without having to move away from their families or hometowns.
The ramifications of such a dynamic shift won't truly be able to be distilled until after a couple decades, but if local economies could start to get a virtual link to the opportunities in metropolitan areas, that's a long-term win for companies sourcing talent and for local municipalities that can now be partially plugged in to the national economy. It may even bridge the urban-rural socioeconomic crevice that thus far has only been widening.
Adirondack Park (Upstate, NY)
Population: 132,000 [200,000 seasonal] (US Census Bureau)
If Burlington is well-oiled for growth, then why not the vast rural communities just across the lake? Upstate, NY is widely interpreted to end at Albany, but there's actually six million acres of protected parkland north of New York State's capital. It's known as The Adirondack Park.
Millions of tourists come to the area, especially for the hiking of the 46 Peaks along with numerous other trailheads. Outdoor recreation is found across all skews, from fishing and swimming in the summer to skiing in the winter. Slopes such as Whiteface and Gore Mountain are the most popular, with Whiteface a snowball's throw from picturesque ski village Lake Placid, which has hosted the global Olympics twice.
There's plenty of summer lake communities such as Lake George, Schroon Lake, and Saranac Lake, and those are only a few drops in a large pond of tiny hamlets dispersed throughout the area.
Essex, NY is right on the Adirondack Coast of Lake Champlain and was featured in a 2018 Forbes Article, as one of "America's Top 5 Coolest Towns To Buy A Vacation Home." The preface to the article is fortuitous, pondering why these destinations couldn't in fact be "working from" places in an increasingly telecommunications-friendly world.
Not every town in Upstate, NY has the quaint, historic colonial architecture of Essex's Main Street strip, outfitted with boutiques like "The Neighborhood Nest", an updated, year-round hotel in the Essex Inn, and a ferry port that gets you to Vermont and then Burlington within an hour.
But even this community speaks more to its ceiling than current vibrance, with a myriad of farmhouses ripe for renovation, empty retail spaces, and a local farming network ready to service residents with quality provisions.
Unfortunately, many of these hamlets are suffering from declining year-round population due to a lack of labor opportunities, especially ones in the skilled-labor bucket. Towns like Essex and its quadruplets scattered throughout the region could benefit greatly from city birds flocking to these nested, local getaways.
And not with the idea of benefitting just transplants. With some watering from Fortune 500 companies themselves – who could start posting remote jobs to "remote" places – local students who want to stay in the area could be given a mechanism for which to do so, without having to move hundreds of miles away for full-time jobs.
Much has been tabulated about the current flooding of New Yorkers into the Hudson Valley, but just north of there is where the real opportunity could lie. While desolate, the Adirondacks are reasonable driving distance from Manhattan, Boston, and even closer to international giant Montreal.
With much cheaper real estate than the Hudson Valley, or Silicon Valley for that matter, the Adirondacks are a potential haven for "Hamlet HQs" and a truly distributed digital workforce.
Challenges remain in ensuring reliable broadband access to power such a cohort, and there's also the question of creating an infrastructure for this contingent of workers to not feel so isolated.
But where there's a pain point and demand, there can be a budding business too. And building out a rural, distributed business district (rDBD) could be a meaningful investment.
The Adirondacks are littered with empty retail space from old shops to closed down warehouses and even spacious barns. With WeWork, Regus, and Industrious parked in urban square footage, co-working could find new life in rural areas – locally owned internet cafes and incubators, where the lower fixed rent cost could make the economics of a barn outfitted for co-working far better than the profit margin of a WeWork in a glass-plated office building along San Francisco's Wharf.
Maybe "Adirondack Park Place" is what future generations will envision when they think about where creative and innovative work gets done.
New Braunfels, TX
Population: 79,438 (US Census Bureau)
Everything's bigger in Texas and so is the opportunity for this mid-sized central Texas town when it comes to the onslaught of remote work. Positioned essentially equidistant within the corridor between Austin and San Antonio, New Braunfels could become a hybrid employee's landing ground for both cities.
It's roughly an hour commute in either direction, with more seclusion and space than San Antonio and a price tag below Austin – which has been growing at an absolutely octane pace.
This entire band of small towns and cities has been experiencing a pile-on effect to Austin's rise, filling in even prior to the pandemic. Sometimes dubbed "the next Bay Area", population spikes in New Braunfels, college-town San Marcos to the North, and Kyle and Buda just a tad north of there, started to extend Austin's metro closer and closer to San Antonio, closing in the gap and rendering New Braunfels an efficient gateway city.
Now with the advent of work-from-home, the community provides a great place for families with one or both parents in hybrid or full-time remote roles to relocate permanently. What may have been a daily two-hour round trip commute may become weekly, which will propel an exodus from urban rentals.
It won't be a dagger to Austin's downtown as single young professionals with high-paying jobs will flock to the CBD for one bedrooms and studios, but families paying high rent in the city will leverage office "cord-cutting" by purchasing real estate in more affordable, spacious communities. New Braunfels fits the bill.
It's a town propped up by levers of German and Hispanic culture, parkland, the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers, and an existing skilled workforce that's buoyed the unemployment rate to just 2.8 percent. Pair that with a low city and county tax rate and easy transportation and it's become the definition of bang for your buck affordability.
It's also built to accommodate the exact archetype looking to buy, with 81 percent of homes between $200-$499k. These suburban style homes surround a classic looking Texas downtown with 19th century limestone buildings.
Right now, the top employers in the region are Comal and New Braunfels school districts, Sysco, and a Walmart Distribution Center, but it's not hard to imagine Google, Facebook, Indeed, Oracle, and Amazon employing people from their remote distributed home offices just an hour south of Austin's tech scene.
Population: 145,403 (US Census Bureau)
The state of Georgia is shifting rapidly when it comes to baseline demographics and ideology. This couldn't be more evident than the state's recent election of two Democratic senators. But beyond the ballot box, it's a microcosm of the rejuvenation of the Sun Belt as a growing, opportune sector of the country in ways the Rust Belt or Middle America haven't quite replicated since the reverberating effects of the Great Recession.
While Georgia is on the map because of a major metro in Atlanta, along with a behemoth of a public university, the state has unique geographic positioning as a southern coastal state.
Draw a line south from Wilmington and you'll intersect with popular shoreline cities Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and Hilton Head of the Carolinas before landing on Savannah, which is just on the edge of the the South Carolina-Georgia border.
What lies there is all the ingredients for a thriving American coastal town, one with a National Historic Landmark District, a tangible downtown area, and all sorts of cultural and nature touch points scattered among a web of rivers.
The Antebellum architecture and twenty or so park-centric city squares make it a New Orleans, French Quarter variation but with more Georgian-style buildings and a scaled down, community atmosphere that isn't as starkly urban. And it's more of a beach region if you venture out to Tybee Island or even Hilton Head across state lines.
Savannah is certainly more a town than its more dense New Orleans or Charleston cousins, which makes it an ideal location to push the boundaries of growth and absorb remote workers, who can truly integrate into a more malleable canvas.
With a global carrier shipping port and major airport close by, it's certainly not cut off by industry. While it remains to be seen whether agglomeration will be a mainstay in a remote era, it would be interesting to see some of the multinational companies that utilize the seaport open up satellite, corporate operational offices and hire hybrid employees, just for purposes of conceptualizing a particular industry skew for the region. Think Evergreen or Maersk hiring remote software developers, logistics managers, or sales reps and building out a remote, collaborative workforce at the terminal source.
But as is the case with working remotely, truly any industry can be supported as long as an area has the bandwidth, both literally when it comes to telecommunications, and more figuratively, when it comes to housing supply or where people work.
A historic downtown with plenty of commercial space and cafes could make an attractive "DBD" with homes large enough for home offices spread also spread across the landscape.
A median 3BR and 2BA home goes for just a touch over $200k per NerdWallet, which shakes out to a remarkable 82 percent lower cost than San Francisco homes of similar scope. It's also 37 percent lower than those of the state's largest metro: Atlanta.
The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA) sees the budding opportunity and has already introduced an incentive program for re-location for work-from-anywhere tech talent. This natural fit in tandem with intentional economic planning, could put Savannah ahead of the curve when it comes to infusing growth into the area, growth that's spurred by a watershed moment in flexible work-life frameworks.