THE NEFF ZONE -- BY JIM NEFF
CADILLAC NEWS -- NOVEMBER 14, 2020
Are you ready for some pie in the sky? Something outside the box? Something that may seem like a “no way” now, but is intriguing enough to generate a “way” if you think about the future?
See, the pandemic has redefined a lot of things in our lives. For instance, the term “work” has an expanded meaning. In addition to work being a place you “go to,” it also encompasses something you “do” at home. This leads to the redefinition of “home” to include a place where you work.
Realizing this, a new trend is materializing in this country – Zoom towns. In short, if your workplace is your home, where that home is located makes no difference. Some people are opting to move their workplaces to locales where the “livin' is easy,” or at least easier is some respects.
The Journal of the American Planning Association documents this. “There has been a drastic increase in remote work. Nearly sixty percent of employees are now working remotely full or part time, according to a recent Gallup poll. Nearly two-thirds of employees who have been working remotely would like to continue to do so, according to that same poll. That would seemingly give workers a lot more flexibility when it comes to where they call home. The pandemic is leading to a new phenomenon: a migration to small towns near major public lands and ski resorts as people’s jobs increasingly become remote-friendly."(https://www.fastcompany.com/90564796/zoom-towns-are-exploding-in-the-west)
This is primarily happening in the western states right now. The University of Utah notes the good news and bad news. Communities near scenic public lands, national parks, and other outdoor recreational amenities were already facing … “a flood of remote workers fleeing big cities to ride out the pandemic.”
Now many of those transplanted workers are opting to stay. For those towns the key is managing this influx. “This trend was already happening, but amenity migration into these communities has been expedited and it can have destructive consequences if not planned for and managed.” (https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/the-rise-of-zoom-towns-in-the-rural-west/)
So, people are moving to small towns near recreational amenities and they are bringing their work (and the associated commerce) with them. You know, a place where they can do their work and then within minutes can be skiing, biking, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, shopping, walking along a lake shore, and so forth.
Does this any of this sound familiar? Perhaps a small town located in the middle of that mythical destination called “Up North” might ring a bell. If you have ever told someone that you already live in a place where other people come for a vacation, I will bet a ”way” thought is taking shape.
There are two challenges that need to be met in order for a Zoom town to become a reality. One is housing. According to Realtor Magazine: “A Zoom town is a new nickname for a housing market that is suddenly booming as remote work takes off. Americans, no longer bound by a commute join the hunt for a new place to call home. Remote workers are craving more space, privacy and tranquility as well as convenient opportunities to spend time outdoors and get closer to nature.”
Bloomberg Reports adds: “As remote work grows, Americans are realizing they can take their jobs with them to new places. This could potentially reshape some of these smaller towns.” (https://magazine.realtor/daily-news/2020/09/16/is-your-housing-market-considered-a-zoom-town)
Housing is a crucial need, but Internet infrastructure is equally important. “One issue for these growing communities involves infrastructure: how prepared are they to host more Internet traffic? Much activity has moved online: work, school, social gatherings, public meetings, etc. Are Zoom towns the kinds of places that have robust Internet capacity? We do not just need to maintain what already exists. Without good infrastructure development in this area, future opportunities may not exist.” (https://legallysociable.com/2020/09/13/zoom-towns-better-have-good-internet-capabilities/)
At this point let's think about the whole Zoom town thing. If people move into a town and bring their work with them they are just adding to the number of employed people (adding new jobs to the community). The money they make from their labors will probably be spent locally, which benefits everyone who already lives in the town. To attract these new workers housing and Internet capacity is improved, again benefiting newcomers and current residents alike.
Okay, so this is all pie in the sky, right? Well, I told you that from the get-go. I'm not a city planner and I do not play one on TV. It's difficult to imagine the possibility of Cadillac as a Zoom town. Then again, such a thing does not seem totally impossible either.
Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.