Remote work can help people live and work where they want, without having to sacrifice a good paycheque. Imagine: the safety and adventure-at-your-doorstep of small town life combined with an interesting, well-paying home-based job. That’s the dream, isn’t it. Well, it’s my dream anyways…
Recently, the US state of Vermont announced a grants program that is offering $10,000 for people who choose to move and work remotely there. These grants cover relocations expenses, coworking memberships, computers, internet, and other work-related expenses. It’s a smart move for a state with a quickly aging population and new residents will get access to beautiful east coast scenery and activities.
New Mexico is working on a similar grants-based economic development program, aiming to reduce declining populations and get access to consistent, well-paying jobs.
You could live off-grid like remote worker Jeff Thrope, who left Los Angeles for New Mexico. He and his partner spend most of their free time hiking with their two dogs, and get to enjoy the picturesque surrounding landscape and peace of rural living.
Or leave the hustle of a busy place like Silicon Valley for Stillwater, MN like online entrepreneur Paul Bromen. He’s cut his rent down from $1,800 to $600 which allows him to travel more. He says he sometimes misses the networking opportunities of Silicon Valley, but ultimately enjoys a freer and more flexible lifestyle in his small town.
While I live in a small city (under 400,00 people), I still get to travel to small towns throughout the year and work remotely. Looking at closed shops and wincing at the thought of towns relying solely on tourism as their main source of income, I know remote work programs could help fill the gaps left by seasonal tourism jobs and allow more skilled professionals escape busy cities for a more relaxed, affordable, and outdoorsy lifestyle.
Traditionally rural jobs are under threat from technological advancement. Autonomous transport trucks, automated mining and farming, and more will slowly (or possible, quickly) displace some of the higher paying jobs in small towns. Young people will continue leaving for higher paying work in the cities. This trend has been growing since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Schools will shut down as fewer young families fill them and our beloved small towns will continue evolving into retirement or vacation communities, lacking diversity and that “local” feel.
A remote workforce could stimulate new business, including turning empty commercial spaces into coworking offices, occupying cafés and restaurants year-round and during quieter hours, filling local events, and adding customers to local internet and computer services companies. They would bring money from the larger centres, like Silicon Valley, and distribute it locally.
In the city where I live, rent is ridiculously expensive. Home ownership is out of the question (the average home price in Victoria, British Columbia is over $700,000) and frankly, I could do without the increasing traffic, lineups, and crime. It’s been a long time since I lived somewhere where I could leave the front door unlocked and get out in nature (or to the ski hill) in 15 minutes or less. I haven’t moved back to a small town because of the jobs issue (which I thankfully no longer have, due to working remotely) but plan to eventually. Prior to living in the city, I lived in various small towns including Tofino, Sun Peaks Resort, and Revelstoke where surfing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and hiking were just a few minutes away. Imagine what that could do for many stressed-out office workers’ quality of life.
Remote work is not the only answer to boosting small-town economies, but I believe it could help.