A new report from Upwork found that nearly 20 million Americans are planning on moving due to their new-found ability to work from home. Such trends represent a new opportunity in how cities market themselves to potential new residents. Historically, cities faced a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Needing to attract both employers and talent, it wasn’t always clear which one to focus on first. Would securing employers attract talent or would employers need to see strong talent before coming to town?
While this historic pattern remains influential in how many cities think about their economic development, the ability to work from home is changing the game to a significant degree. Now that workers can bring their jobs with them and no longer have to worry about commuting, many people are looking for less expensive cities where they build a more sustainable pattern of life in line with their values.
While this trend doubtless brings some challenges, it is an exciting opportunity for cities to define their brand principles and tell authentic stories that attract new citizens to their communities. Here are three things to keep in mind when crafting those stories.
People moving to new cities are looking for more than just the nuts and bolts of a new neighborhood. They’re looking for more than just affordable housing and good schools. They’re also looking for opportunities to cultivate a sense of belonging by meaningfully participating in the life of the community.
Your city can tap into this desire by highlighting opportunities for new residents to plug into the local fabric. Amplify volunteer opportunities, civic clubs and events that give your city a feeling of community. Tell a story about how living here is an opportunity to participate in these meaningful experiences. More importantly, tell stories about how these experiences display your city’s values. Connecting with new residents on this deeper heart level creates the kind of buy-in that can inspire long-term commitment.
For example, while developing a brand strategy for Heartland Lakes, MN, we produced a series of stories about a young family who had moved to the area, highlighting their values and showing how Heartland Parks aligned with them.
Even though many American cities today adopt patterns of design that make them look quite similar to each other, no one wants to live in a generic place. People want to live in cities that offer a sense of distinction and cultural pride. When crafting messaging geared towards remote workers, take time to showcase what makes your city different, whether that’s a particular set of local businesses, interesting locals, special traditions or unique natural destinations. Tell a story about how moving to your city is an opportunity to take part in the story of your town while strengthening a local economy.
For example, the same branding project mentioned above we intentionally highlighted a few interesting things that set this community apart. First, we learned that this small rural northwoods community had an impressive Internet connection for such a small town. While that may not seem interesting to those living in a big city that can be a game changer for talent attraction in small rural communities. Second, we noticed that the location of Heartland Lakes made it a perfect destination for many young professionals who wanted to own a home in proximity to nature. This made the Heartland Lakes an ideal location to attract young, educated talent to their community that they may have otherwise never had the opportunity to.
With plenty of coverage about the way new residents are driving up housing prices and complicating life for locals, it’s easy for newcomers to feel guilty about moving to a small town. Be sure to communicate how new residents will be adding value too. One of the most important reasons for developing an authentic place brand is so that you attract visitors and new residents who share the values of your community. If you are attracting people who appreciate what your community is all about they can be a welcomed addition and bring in fresh energy, new talent, and money into your community. If you don’t have a clearly defined brand you may attract residents that don’t share your values and do change things when they arrive. The reality is most newcomers want to become part of their new towns cutlure and not change it. That’s why they are choosing to live there.
Let’s cut to the chase: many remote workers are looking for improved quality of life as well as looking to save money by moving to more affordable cities. Take advantage of this by showcasing to remote workers how moving to your city is an investment in their future. Tell stories that illustrate the savings new residents may enjoy by moving to your city by clearly comparing the cost of living in your city with the costs of living in other cities.
But don’t just stop at the potential for personal savings. Also show how new residents can achieve two goals at once: saving for their family’s future while also investing in a local economy that they can be part of.
Lastly, be sure to emphasize the quality of life your city offers. Access to natural destinations, regular downtown programming, child-friendly activities and bikeability are the kinds of features that potential new residents might be looking for. Don’t hesitate to highlight “small town” features like low traffic, distance from a major airport or small geographic size…those features can speak to the priorities of new residents who value not having to traverse large distances for everyday errands and who want the social benefits of living in a small town that a bit off the “big city” radar.