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Zoom Town? - It's where all the jobs went.


In March 2020, I told myself I would never visit Seagrove Beach, Florida again,

Despite having owned a second home on its shores for nearly 20 years, I decided we would not be vacationing there ever again.

Not because we had fallen out of love with the place with its turquoise blue water, sugar white sand and laid back ‘hometown’ vibe, but because with remote working we could now live there permanently.

Like millions of others around the world as the COVID pandemic hit, our lives, and especially our working lives, changed dramatically. Office buildings closed, meetings and conferences were cancelled and face to face sales events were curtailed.

Having spent 25 years working for some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies and global advertising agencies I was used to a very corporate life. I commuted, attended team meetings, ate meals in company canteens and amassed countless points and miles in airports and hotels.

But here I was, in my early 50’s with high school and college-aged children, about to pack it all in and move to Zoom Town.

Zoom Town, of course, isn’t an actual place. It has no zip code.

It is any number of locations across the USA and beyond where a community experiences a significant population increase as remote work becomes more popular. The name is a play on “Boomtown" from the days when gold and oil was first discovered and the name of the web conferencing tool, Zoom.

By Summer of 2020, the pandemic had led to the phenomenon of significant migration to beach communities, ski resorts or rural country towns. Research suggests there are 35 million global digital nomads working remotely – 30% of them Americans.

That first wave of remote working saw many people move into their second homes, beach houses and ski lodges and turn the third bedroom or den into an office complete with Zoom conference call technology and fast fibre networks.

Firms quickly recognised the advantage of having staff working remotely, how much happier and more satisfied they were, how productivity improved, and the cost saving of not having to heat and cool or maintain and secure enormous office blocks in the world’s most expensive cities.

Encouraged by this, more and more people have started to explore working remotely and are looking for the ideal spot to relocate.

There are many considerations for anyone looking to move to Zoom Town.

The first is to decide if this is a permanent move or just a temporary one?

The idea of packing up your whole life and moving across country or overseas forever isn’t one to take lightly. For families with kids in tow, it is even more pronounced.

According to academic and leading urbanologist, Richard Florida, author of the book Who’s Your City, schools are the number one consideration for most remote workers thinking about permanently relocating.

But many of those looking to take advantage of remote working opportunities do see this as a temporary option.

They may be thinking when things return to ‘normal’ they will be back in the city again. For others, particularly the Millennials and Generation Z demographics, permanent doesn’t mean that much to them. They may be looking at Zoom Towns as somewhere to spend a fixed period or, like digital snowbirds, just the winter months, or perhaps just ‘somewhere to hang’ until the next great opportunity arises.

We know today’s college leavers don’t expect the jobs for life, home ownership and financial securities previous generations demanded from work, so picking a community which meets their lifestyle aspirations - sporting, community or cultural - may be high on the list of priorities.

And smart mayors and town officials are now seeing the inherent economic benefits of being a Zoom Town.

Understanding what remote workers want and need and then showcasing it to prospective new residents is what many towns and small cities are now focused on. Some small towns are offering relocation grants, work visas, even free bikes to tempt new remote workers.

Communities are now competing to attract talent. As well as having great natural attractions like lakes, beaches or mountains, city councils and town administrations recognise they need to be providing other important amenities too – the afore mentioned great schools, but also available housing, good transport infrastructure, hospitals and leisure facilities.

And what Zoom Towns have quickly discovered is that this influx of new remote workers is having a huge multiplier effect on the local economy.

Not only do new residents pay their taxes and do their shopping locally, but they also start or create demand for new businesses providing the services they were used to having in their previous urban homes – dog walking and pet sitting, electric bikes and e-scooters, food delivery and coffee shops, health food stores and gyms.

And while comparing house prices, tax rates, proximity to beaches or mountains is important in deciding if Zoom Town living is for you, potential remote workers need to know they can successfully perform their jobs from where they choose to locate.

After all, this is not early retirement or downsizing. It isn’t about dropping out and spending more time with your dog, and though using your free time more enjoyably is a definite bonus, you still must earn a living.

I am a writer and marketing consultant mainly involved in real estate development, economic regeneration and tourism, so the warm shores of Florida are ideal. I’m in the same time zone as many of my clients plus I can easily get to customers and contacts if the need arises.

My Zoom Town is in fact an entire county – South Walton in Northwest Florida. It already had a population of around 75,000, good digital infrastructure, great restaurants and bars, two growing airports less than an hour away and is bisected by the I-10 interstate for access to New Orleans, Dallas and Houston in the west, Atlanta, Jacksonville or Tampa to the east.

And whilst remote working may paint a picture of isolation, the reality is we also need places to co-create, meet likeminded individuals and grow our businesses or careers.

While every Starbucks on earth has a budding playwright working on a script, the best Zoom Towns have opened dedicated studios and conference call centres from which remote executives can have multi-participant events with colleagues or clients and enjoy the tech-support we were used to back in the office.

In our Zoom Town, I recently hosted a training event for a multinational agency with tele-conferencing for participants from Europe, New York and Los Angeles. With the digital network and expertise in the hands of dedicated professionals the event was a huge success, was a fraction of the cost of flying all these people to one central location for a week and has led to a new repeat revenue stream for my business too.

But the real benefit of living in Zoom Town is your happiness.

Now, instead of commuting on busy roads and packed trains for two hours a day to and from the office, I have time to cycle to the gym, swim in the Gulf and make breakfast for my youngest before she heads off to school.

These, I believe, are the moments of life-affirming happiness remote working in Zoom Town delivers.

Ends

Five Beach ‘Zoom Towns’ To Consider:

1. Zadar, Croatia

Zadar has opened the world’s first purpose-built remote working village, nicknamed ‘The Valley’. An historic port town in Croatia with thriving markets, glistening beaches and all the fresh seafood you could wish for, it is also one of the most progressive cities in Croatia so offers a good mix of history and innovation.

2. Lewes, Delaware

Lewes combines the charm of an East Coast beach town but offsets the cost of living with Delaware’s famously low taxes. Add a strong local food scene and some affordable high-speed internet, and you’ve got yourself one of the greatest towns for remote working.

3. Aruba, Caribbean

Aruba advertises itself to tourists as ‘One Happy Island’. Now U.S. remote workers who sign up for the ‘One Happy Workation’ program can enjoy three months of special rates, free WiFi, and all-inclusive food & beverage options. You can even bring your pets.

4. Tulum, Mexico

Tulum has the infrastructure to cater to this upsurge of remote workers, offering reliable WiFi, remote working spaces, digital nomad groups and clubs. The cost of living is low, it is the same time zone as U.S. and the lifestyle benefits are huge.

5. Ventura, California

This vibrant So-Cal coastal city is rich in history and home to a vibrant arts scene, both of which embody its liveliness and casual atmosphere. Ventura also has an impressive 32 parks and historic sites, award winning schools and 272 days of sunshine every year.

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