In a world where professionals no longer have to sacrifice quality of life for the job of their dreams, Happy Valley is proof that we’ve had it figured out all along.
“When my brother applied for a medical position in State College five years ago, one of the things that gave him an advantage was mentioning that he grew up here in Central Pennsylvania. Knowing that he wasn’t using the position as a stepping-stone to a more metropolitan area was a significant factor for him ultimately being offered the job. Many in his field—along with countless research and Industry 4.0 talent—have traditionally landed in major urban areas like San Francisco and New York, and advances in remote work didn’t seem to make a dent in this dominance,” says a local writer.
But in 2020, COVID created a sea change. When shutdowns were imposed to limit the virus’ spread, America’s most expensive cities saw a sharp decline in rents while crime rates surged. People setting up home offices quickly realized that if they could do their jobs from anywhere, that ‘anywhere’ could be somewhere where they could enjoy living. Not surprisingly, Happy Valley is a top choice, as anyone who has tried to purchase a home recently can attest.
The Wall Street Journal and Realtor.com rank State College as the number 1 real estate market in Pennsylvania. According to local realtor Greg Copenhaver of RE/MAX Centre Realty, in mid-May last year there were 400 homes listed for sale in this Multiple Listing Service (MLS) area while at the same time this year in there were only 177. “In my 35 years as an agent, this is the craziest market I’ve ever seen,” he said.
McKinsey Global Institute, the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Company, tracked the migration of talent using location data from LinkedIn. They reported that Madison, Wisconsin, for instance, saw the inflow of workers increase 10% relative to outflows from April through October 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. In contrast, workers moving to New York City versus people departing was -27% and San Francisco similarly plummeted at -24%.
“The virus has vanquished cultural barriers that prevented remote work in the past, triggering a structural shift in where work gets done. Opportunities are no longer strictly location based, and so, smaller hubs can be more competitive,” Economist Erik Stettler told Toptal as he studied the trend of talent moving to small cities. “Cities will need to adapt to the new reality. They are now competing for the best talent, rather than the world’s best talent competing for access to certain key financial and tech hubs.”
A recent NPR story reported those who find themselves working remotely decamped to small cities to ride out the pandemic, choosing to continue their jobs in a place where they want to be, somewhere with “lower prices and a more relaxed vibe, without sacrificing vibrant culture, decent restaurants and other conveniences.”
They are not alone. Even as the restrictions from the pandemic slowly disappear, the shift has changed how professionals approach their jobs. Sixty-six percent of professionals in technology, finance and other fields would now consider leaving San Francisco if they could permanently work from home, according to a survey by Blind, an online forum for people in those industries; 63% said they would leave Seattle and 69% that they would leave New York.
Happy Valley offers a master class in work-life balance. When most small cities can offer an affordable home and a place to work remotely, Happy Valley provides opportunities at companies making global impact and what National Geographic calls “Adventure Town” after hours. In a world where professionals are slowly realizing that they do not have to sacrifice livability for the job of their dreams, Happy Valley is proof that we’ve had it figured out all along.