There continue to be many widespread impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, and one we’ve been talking about a lot lately both here on the SiteSeer blog and with our clients is population migration.
In September, we updated a study we’ve done in previous years: assessing the fastest-growing metropolitan and micropolitan areas in the United States. In that blog, we looked at how populations have (or haven’t) changed since June 2018 (when the economy was booming) and June 2020 (when coronavirus was booming).
In the month since that publication, we’ve fielded additional questions about COVID-19 and the effect the pandemic has had and will continue to have on business locations, employee relocation and how office workers will operate in the post COVID-19 world. Questions like…
- Where are corporate offices locating or relocating?
- What draws those companies to the cities they choose, especially during volatile times like 2020?
- Is the shift as significant as we all suspect it might be, or part of the natural migration that happens over time?
We’ll be frank: we don’t have all the answers, and nobody will for a while. But there’s no question that some trends are emerging. Here are a few that we see:
Companies moving offices
Our data partner, Applied Geographic Solutions, recently posted a blog about offices and employees on the move. Their data of cities with the biggest percent change in employees (both positive change and negative change) highlights a few things one might expect and some head-scratchers. Yes, cities like New York City and San Francisco are experiencing a loss of employees, which could be because they’re expensive places to live (and expensive for companies to have offices). Other places like New Jersey and Washington are losing employees to more business-friendly locations such as Texas, Tennessee and Florida. But Cook County, Illinois, (where Chicago is) topped the list of counties with the most employment growth between 2016 and 2020 – an interesting fact given that our data sources and articles like this one talk about how Illinois—and Cook County in particular— has been losing population to outmigration. Perhaps Chicago is seeing a resurgence or is experiencing the “work from anywhere” trend. Let’s talk about that next…
The “work from anywhere” trend
This New York Times article discusses a growing trend of people fleeing the U.S. for countries like Barbados and Bermuda to take advantage of remote worker visas that allow visitors to live and work remotely for up to 12 months. Hire a Helper released a COVID Migration Report that says that states like Idaho, New Mexico, Delaware and South Carolina have seen big gains in people moving in, while states like Connecticut, Oklahoma, New Jersey and California are seeing big losses. People’s reasons? The top was that they couldn’t afford current housing, and next was that they were moving to shelter-in-place with family or friends, but there were many other reasons. Bottom line: people are moving, whether they are taking advantage of the opportunity to work from anywhere, have been laid off, or something else.
Office consolidation and the rise of telecommuting
Sure, some companies might be leaving one city for another, but in today’s landscape, many companies are choosing to leave one city for…nowhere.
- This CNBC article discusses several big employers’ permanent work-from-home plans. Nationwide has gone to 98% work from home and announced a permanent transition to a hybrid model with four main corporate campuses and work-from-home in most other locations.
- Some companies like Square and Twitter have announced that they will allow employees to work from home should they choose to. That likely means that companies with large offices will downsize eventually, and perhaps some already are working on it.
- This Boston Herald article says that there were more commercial tenants moving out of office space in Q2 2020 than ever before and that dozens of companies have put some or all of their offices on the market. One example: Tripadvisor, which closed its downtown Boston office (as well as its San Francisco office) permanently, is laying off 25% of its workforce, and is looking to sublet 100,000 square feet of space in its Needham headquarters. Employees NOT getting laid off in Boston and San Francisco can work virtually or out of the Needham headquarters.
What’s the takeaway?
We wrote this blog because we’re getting a variety of questions about these types of trends. Questions like:
- Is the work-anywhere trend a permanent one?
- If so, what does that mean for business site selection? Take a peek at our most recent blog on micro and metro areas experiencing the most population changes. Indeed, it appears that Americans are moving from large urban areas to smaller markets (for now).
- Will businesses/retailers that have historically focused on urban locations prior to COVID renew their focus on suburbs or smaller markets?
None of us know whether these trends are short term or long term. COVID-19 isn’t over, but it is having an impact on companies and people everywhere. It remains to be seen what trends will last.
Our advice to clients that are considering opening new store or business locations is this:
- Look to the data, but remember that there’s always more to a story than meets the eye.
- Don’t rely on one source of data to make decisions.
- When you’re analyzing and reviewing data, do so with your business in mind.
Population growth and decline obviously impacts chain businesses everywhere, and it’s important to understand how the landscape is changing. If SiteSeer can help you evaluate your data or run population studies on the areas that you’re considering moving, contact us.