A Zoom town is a community that experiences a significant population increase as remote work becomes more popular, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift is expected to have significant economic implications. The name is a play on "boomtown" and the name of the web conferencing tool Zoom.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the phenomenon of a significant migration to previous “getaway communities” and small towns near attractions such as ski resorts in conjunction with the increase in popularity of remote work. In March of 2020, the pandemic forced many workers to transfer to remote work, and a September Gallup poll showed that nearly 60% of workers remained working remotely full or part time, and two-thirds of employees wanted to stay that way, giving them more flexibility in where to live. Before the pandemic, only 10% or less of workers in the United States worked remotely full-time. People working remotely found they could attain some "normalcy" by hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing, and other outdoor activities while cities were locked down, and they did not need to commute to work. A November study by the Pew Research center found that as a result of the pandemic, around 5% of Americans had moved in the prior several months to the study.
The name "Zoom towns" is reminiscent of past "boomtowns", communities which underwent sudden and rapid population growth with the discovery of resources like oil. It is also a reference to the web conferencing tool Zoom.
In the United States, locations such as The Hamptons, New York; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Aspen, Colorado; Bethel, Maine; and Truckee, California — which are usually considered vacation destinations — have been seeing large spikes in people moving there. Truckee for instance saw a 23% increase. On the other hand, cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City, have seen rent levels plunge. This has put strain on the towns seeing booms which are not used to handling the number in people, in some cases leading to problems such as a lack of affordable housing, availability of public transit, congestion, and income inequality; which have been traditionally thought of as larger city problems.
In the United States, many small western mountain towns have seen significant in-migration from very wealthy migrants, leading some observers to call the wealthy zoom towns a "Billionaire Wilderness," taken from the name of a book by Yale University sociologist Justin Farrell. Although the trend was already taking place, the rapid migration to the communities expedited the problem and has led to calls to carefully manage the situation to avoid the places being "loved to death". Many of the areas have tight housing regulations which prevent construction booms, but which drive prices for houses already built even higher, such as the Hamptons, which has seen a rise in housing prices of up to 25%, and Truckee, which is up 50%. Not all areas experiencing booms see it as a problem however, and some have even launched initiatives specifically designed to appeal to remote workers. It is expected that remote workers will bring significant tax revenue and will want to give back to their new communities. West Virginia has offered $12,000 to people who move to the state and work remotely.
According to the Canadian magazine Maclean's, population related statistical data in Canada "shows that from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020, Toronto and Montreal posted record population losses, while Halifax grew the second-fastest of any major urban area, and Moncton also grew faster than average. Housing prices have soared as people across Canada buy property in the Maritimes sight unseen through virtual tours, with Fredericton’s U-Haul dealer struggling to keep up with all the people renting moving trucks in Ontario and Quebec and trying to drop them off at its lot."
In Europe, some countries such as Italy, Romania, Poland, Latvia, and Bulgaria, which had experienced "brain-drain" in preceding years, found young professionals return home as they began working remotely; a trend which was further encouraged by some governments in the form of tax breaks for returning citizens. Other places have set up working visa programs specifically for remote workers, such as Anguilla, Barbados, Georgia, Estonia, and Croatia. Following the same trend, Italy began paying people to move to its more remote villages in order to revitalize them. One study early in the pandemic of 30 countries around the world showed that countries in the so-called "developed world" had the easiest shift to working remotely, with Luxembourg coming in at the top, while Nigeria was at the bottom.
Richard Florida and Adam Ozimek wrote in an article in The Wall Street Journal that the shift is expected to have significant economic implications. Before the pandemic, very few companies allowed their employees to do work entirely remotely, and many had a negative perception of remote work, but the pandemic changed that. The "work-from-home experiment" was considered a "a resounding – and somewhat unexpected – success" by management experts, and working remotely is expected to remain a significant part of the American workforce, and no longer be seen as a workplace "perk" for a handful of employees in a few more modern companies. Companies that have already announced that remote work will become permanent within their corporation include Twitter, Siemens, Shopify, Facebook, and State Bank of India, and 74% of venture capitalists and venture-backed entrepreneurs expect their companies to remain remote for the majority of employees, if not all of them. Other possible effects of people moving to smaller towns include changes in transportation habits, as people drive cars less and feel it less of a necessity to own them, they may opt for ridesharing options if available, and may even increase the demand for self-driving cars.
Examples of Zoom towns and regions
- Aspen, Colorado
- Bellevue, Washington
- Bethel, Maine
- Bozeman, Montana
- Cape Cod, Massachusetts
- Carlsbad, California
- Carmel, Indiana
- Cary, North Carolina
- Centennial, Colorado
- Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
- Fremont, California
- Frisco, Texas
- Gilbert, Arizona
- The Hamptons, New York
- Henderson, Nevada
- Hudson Valley, New York
- Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- Lake Tahoe, California
- League City, Texas
- Missoula, Montana
- Moncton, Canada
- Olathe, Kansas
- Roseville, California
- Sandy Springs, Georgia
- Santa Fiora, Italy
- Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Italy
- Thousand Oaks, California
- Torrance, California
- Truckee, California
- Rosalsky, Greg (8 September 2020). "Zoom Towns And The New Housing Market For The 2 Americas". NPR. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Florida, Richard; Ozimek, Adam (5 March 2021). "How Remote Work Is Reshaping America's Urban Geography". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Hyken, Shep (28 February 2021). "The Impact Of The Remote Workforce". Forbes. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
- Hopkins, Michael S. (11 March 2021). "Remote work is here to stay – and it's changing our lives". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Eliot, Lance (12 March 2021). "Self-Driving Cars To Be Especially Welcomed In "Zoom Towns"". Forbes. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
- Smith, Lilly (17 October 2020). "'Zoom towns' are exploding in the West". Fast Company. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Brenan, Megan (13 October 2020). "COVID-19 and Remote Work: An Update". Gallup. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Editorial (2 April 2021). "Mountain towns may have a bumpy ride to the new normal". Idaho Mountain Express. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Bieber, Ryan (20 January 2021). "Zoom Town: Could Ithaca become the place remote workers abandon cities for?". Ithaca Times. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Potter, Lisa (14 October 2020). "The rise of 'Zoom Towns' in the rural west". University of Utah. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Banse, Tom (27 January 2021). "Explosion Of 'Zoom Towns' In Pacific Northwest Cause Home Prices To Skyrocket". WBUR. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Greiff, James; Sen, Conor (5 August 2020). "Booming 'Zoom Towns' Should Ease City Housing Costs". Bloomberg. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Farrell, Justin (2 March 2021). Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-wealthy and the Remaking of the American West. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691217123.
- Sozzi, Brian (12 April 2021). "West Virginia will now give you $12,000 to move to its state and work remotely". Yahoo. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
- "Best communities in Canada: Why Atlantic Canada comes out on top". 8 April 2021.
- Soguel, Dominique; Gillet, Kit (26 April 2021). "Southern Europe's brain drain reversed in pandemic. Will it last?". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
- Pitrelli, Monica Buchanan (18 September 2020). "The list of countries where travelers can go live and work remotely is growing". CNBC. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
- Bloom, Laura Begley. "These Beautiful Villages In Italy Will Pay You $33,000 To Move There". Forbes. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
- Bana, Sarah H. (18 June 2020). "Ranking How National Economies Adapt to Remote Work". MIT Sloan. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
- Guimapang, Katherine (25 March 2021). "Remote Work and 'Zoom towns' Aren't Just Changing Our Offices, They're Changing the Future of Employment Opportunities". Archinect. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
- Zoom Towns Are Boomtowns: The Top 15
- Patrick Sisson. Remote Workers Spur an Affordable Housing Crunch in Montana. Bloomberg. February 11, 2021
- Brown, Julie (30 April 2021). "In booming Tahoe Zoom town, this indie natural food store is where locals and new residents meet". SF Gate. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
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Yesterday, I had a very productive virtual discussion w/ RESULTS Alaska to discuss a range of global issues, like the elimination of poverty and the ongoing threat of COVID-19. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me via Zoom; I look forward to our continued work together!