Running A Business

Can Your Small Town Become a Zoom Town?

Aug 16, 2021 • 7 min read
Main Street in Kingston, Ontario
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      Welcome to the age of work anywhere and the rise of Zoom towns. Remote workers who enjoy the luxury of working from any location with a reliable internet connection are migrating to places that have the amenities they want. An UpWork study found that “Anywhere from 14 to 23 million Americans are planning to move as a result of remote work.”

      That amount of migration offers plenty of opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Is it time for your town to reap the rewards a Zoom town offers?

      The Benefit of Being a Zoom Town

      Outsiders bring in many perks, including fresh perspectives and new collaboration opportunities. But the main benefit to becoming a Zoom town? Money.

      Small towns, like any municipality, need a strong economy to survive. Many locations need a replacement for farming or manufacturing jobs that have disappeared.

      One example is Lordstown, OH. The town’s GM plant closure resulted in a loss of 2,700 plant jobs. But the ripple effect was much more significant—studies show that closure resulted in a “cumulative job loss at 7,711” and an economic cost of “$1.6 billion or 9.4% of the gross regional product.”

      Attracting remote workers can bring outside money into the area rather than offering subsidies and tax breaks to large businesses that may not live up to their promises. Towns can ride the economic boom and let remote workers be local businesses’ next customers. New small businesses may even open to meet the needs of the expanding population.

      There are 2 other ways, aside from remote workers relocating long-term, for towns to benefit from the remote work trend—non-permanent digital nomadism and training locals to work remotely.

      Digital nomads approach selecting their landing spots like an extended vacation. They find a place they want to explore more and settle in for a short duration (e.g., 2–12 months). Towns could capture that market by offering itineraries highlighting 12 months of things to do in the area and running marketing campaigns to attract these non-permanent residents.

      Another alternative is to upskill the local population to be remote workers. For example, Utah’s Rural Online Initiative Program trains locals to achieve better pay via remote work. Remote Leadership Institute says, “Virtual jobs eliminate this ‘workforce drain’ by giving rural communities access to stable, high-paying, knowledge-based work without having to move an inch. These jobs not only benefit the worker’s family and lifestyle, but also, in turn, their local economies”.

      It’s Not All Rosy

      Like any change, there can be downsides to becoming a Zoom town.

      Growth issues—affordable housing, traffic congestion, lack of infrastructure, or other capacity issues—are common. For example, previously based on the local economy, the housing market is now influenced by remote workers’ city-based wages. One example is the nearly 30% increase in the median sale prices of houses in Truckee, CA—a popular area for Bay Area remote workers.

      Essentially, Zoom towns can experience the same problems that Gateway and Natural Amenity Region (GNAR) initiative tries to prevent in gateway towns to national parks. While some locals may never appreciate an influx of newcomers, using GNAR’s capacity planning tools can help mitigate some common issues.

      How to Attract Remote Workers to Your Town

      If you’re ready to buckle down and attract remote workers to your municipality, here are a few tips.

      List Your Amenities

      Your town doesn’t have to be an outdoor paradise to attract remote workers. Coordinate with other locals and your area’s destination marketing organization to compile the list of amenities. 

      For example, small towns near Cleveland, OH, don’t have great skiing or oceanfront views. They do have access to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Wine Trail near Geneva, bike trails such as the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, and major league sports teams within driving distance.

      Don’t underestimate your town’s ability to meet the needs of the amenity migration. Start small and grow into the demand. For example, Small Biz Survival says to identify all the places that could be used for coworking spaces, like a room at the library, and list that as an amenity. Eventually, the population increase could create the opportunity for a coworking space business.

      Incentivize It

      There’s a host of cities paying people to move there— with strings attached, of course. Tulsa, OK, via its Tulsa Remote program, offers $10,000 (over a year) to qualified candidates. 

      Or perhaps your town could partner with businesses like Zapier, who offers de-location packages to their employees.

      Spiff Up the Housing Options

      If houses, in general, are showing their wear and tear, start a campaign to spruce up available housing. Improving rural housing is essential as remote workers want to live somewhere less expensive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want fixer-uppers.

      Get a Fresh Set of Eyes

      Figure out what would make people want to live in your town. For example, tourism expert Roger Brooks reviewed Durant, OK. He said they needed “better parking and wayfinding or directional signs for downtown attractions.” Anything to direct newcomers to the local doughnut shop.

      Asking outsiders what is lacking can be eye-opening. It’s easy to overlook what is missing—locals know Main Street closes for the farmer market on the 1st Saturday of every month, but outsiders don’t.

      Market to Zoom Towns

      In the end, it’s all about getting your business a piece of the remote worker pie. If you aren’t in a Zoom town, perhaps relocating your business to a Zoom town or marketing to remote workers is the solution.

      Lendio can help you find the business loan your small business needs to take advantage of the Zoom town phenomenon.

      About the author
      Katherine O'Malley

      Katherine O'Malley is a contributor to the Lendio blog. A technology geek at heart, she splits her time between traveling, freelance writing, database administration work, and implementing SEO on her travel blog. In her free time, she loves to research the challenges small-to-midsize tourist suppliers face and find ways that technology can help them out.

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