A few weeks ago, we ran a story about capturing the human wave of talent leaving big cities. As COVID has changed the workplace, possibly forever, professionals are discovering they can have their dream jobs without sacrificing livability.
As such, it’s no surprise many professionals are relocating to Happy Valley. The area is famous for its livability that happily coexists with top-ranking research and innovation. It’s been ranked No. 60 in a nationwide list of best places to live based on amenities, wages, commute and real estate demand by The Wall Street Journal and Realtor.com, and Niche.com lists several Happy Valley neighborhoods in its top five picks for the whole nation.
We interviewed four professionals about why they decided to move to Happy Valley, what they gained and what can change for the better.
“I came here for graduate school in 1999, and my wife and I really fell in love with what the area had to offer,” Stapleton says. “I grew up an hour outside of Washington, D.C., and had seen enough traffic before the age of 18 that I knew that I didn't want to deal with that every day!”
“The benefits of an area like State College are plentiful: excellent schools, amazing outdoor recreation, a small-town feel with the benefits of what PSU brings to the area,” he says.
But it’s more than livability that’s kept him here. He’s the director of Penn State’s Materials Characterization Lab, and says, “Penn State is No. 1 in Materials Science in terms of federal research dollars, so I am fortunate to work with some of the best materials researchers in the world.”
And while says he’s heard folks apologize for years about State College not being Boston, Philly or Pittsburgh, he says, “There are certainly some opportunities derived from being in locations like these, but I think the combination of quality of life coupled with an expanding number of new companies, along with the power of Penn State, makes Happy Valley a compelling destination.”
So how could Happy Valley become a better destination for tech professionals?
After 20+ years in his new work-life home, Josh has some thoughts. “[I’d like to see] some marketing content developed to advertise what the area has to offer beyond ‘a job.’ I’ve not seen a nice recruiting package like this pulled together and I think it would be quite beneficial.”
He says the mountains have been a big adjustment (“I'm a big fan of walking and biking to get from Point A to Point B and central Pennsylvania's mountainous area is not conducive to that”) but he’s seen huge benefits to the move.
“The benefits are that people treat people like people out here. My employer treats me as an actual person instead of a number. Life is definitely more laid-back. The friendships that both my wife and I have made are completely authentic. When we were moving in and fixing up a home that we just bought, our neighbors came over to introduce themselves and have continued to offer to help with renovations. I would say my quality of life is much higher and my stress levels are lower than what they would be if I lived in a city,” he says.
And on his wishlist?
Now that he’s been in the Happy Valley area for a year (and gotten a little more used to mountains), he says he’d like to see more help for small, service-industry businesses: “I’d like to see more building toward the nightlife/entertainment scene that isn't specifically targeted at students in college. If the cities have that diversity, why can't we?”
“We saw an article about Los Angeles closing down because of the pandemic and knew that New York was next,” she says. “And we said, ‘Let’s get out here.’”
She and her husband, videographer and content creator Corey, packed up “computers, camera gear, clothes and toys,” and headed for her parents’ house in Happy Valley.
That was almost 18 months ago. In the time since then, Livia says that they’ve found a whole world — both for work and livability — in Happy Valley.
“We’ve found a different way of life, and time for family here,” she says. “Parks, pools, hiking, the Discovery Space. When we were in New Jersey, there were bigger things to do, like science centers, the zoo and the shore, but they were also harder to get to, and the drive was kind of dangerous. The parks here are so state-of-the art, and surrounded by nature in a very thoughtful way. The lake is nearby, [as are] nature centers and working farms. They’ve created very special settings and green spaces. It’s really peaceful,” she says.
With the birth of her son four years ago, Livia had already started to make a move toward working from home, so she says that the transition has been fairly smooth. “Earlier in my career, [moving to Happy Valley] would have had a lot more drawbacks for me since I would need to be on site for children's media series produced by Nickelodeon or Sesame Street. But I was already rooted at home, shifting gears to do more podcasts and remote series development work, so I could spend time with our son.”
She says that both she and her husband find the Happy Valley ecosystem, “very collaborative.”
“There are so many helpers in this space,” she says. “So many professionals have reached out to us and asked how we can work together.”
“Shooting on location is so much easier [in Happy Valley]!” he says. “It was so hard to get around Brooklyn. A nightmare, really. You could never park close enough, and then you’d have to schlepp all your equipment up four flights of stairs to shoot in a place with no air conditioning. Here, you put it in the car and drive there. So much simpler.”
He says that relocating has made him rethink his career. “Back home, I could be doing visual special effects for a series, and I’m not likely to do that here, but that’s not what I want to do right now anyway. It was cool and I enjoyed it, but I much prefer the kind of work I am doing in Happy Valley — helping people tell their story from idea to completion.”
He and Livia have founded Spark Pixel Productions this year, and he says he wouldn’t have launched the business while living in New York City. “There is too much competition, and it would have been hard to get it off the ground and cover the cost of living.”
He says the Happy Valley ecosystem of collaboration is new for him, saying, “Livia works in children’s programming and it’s very collaborative, but my field was more cut-throat. There aren’t any attaboys. But in Happy Valley, I’m seeing a totally different mindset. People are letting me into their process — even people who are technically competitors — and asking how we can work together.”
As for what they’d like to see in their adopted hometown?
Livia says, “In Brooklyn and Montclair, New Jersey, there was such a lifestyle of everyone working and hanging out together. That coffee shop aspect is so central to creative professional experience. Since we moved here during COVID, I’m not sure if it’s happening or not, but outward-facing connecting places can be really meaningful.”
As the pair continues to connect to the local ecosystem and grow their production company, Corey says they’ve found the right place to “to create something to be proud of.”