Crossposted from the Herald-Times, this is The Mill’s regular column, written by Pat East, Executive Director.
It’s been nearly two years since The Mill launched Bloomington Remote, a program designed to attract remote workers to Bloomington. These individuals bring their high-paying jobs, contributing to our tax base and supporting local businesses. They even help create jobs: Each new innovation job creates two professional jobs and three service jobs at compensation levels higher than national averages. I thought it would be appropriate to provide an update on this exciting endeavor.
Numerical Success and Economic Impact
Since 2021, we’ve relocated 40 people from 19 states and one country. They boast an average household income of $155k, which is three times Bloomington’s average. According to the Public Policy Institute at IU, these new residents generate an annual economic output of $4 million in both direct and indirect consumer spending.
The Genesis of Bloomington Remote
The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed a shift in the job market. Remote work, once a unique perk, has become a standard practice for many businesses. This significant shift implies that individual talent is gaining prominence over companies. Cities no longer have to court an Amazon to boost their tax revenue; attracting 100 of its remote workers can have a similar impact. This shift also means that cities now directly compete with one another for this talent. Those cities at the forefront of this new form of economic development will be the ones who reap the rewards.
In response to these trends, The Mill launched Bloomington Remote. The goals are simple: 1) infuse our city with more smart people doing interesting work and 2) boost the economy.
The first goal is driven by the idea that talented people engaged in interesting work tend to gravitate towards like-minded individuals. By concentrating such people together, we create a flywheel effect and a competitive advantage for Bloomington. According to the “Strategic Plan for Economic and Community Prosperity in Southwest Central Indiana” by the Battelle Technology Partnership, the region’s low population growth is an obstacle to economic growth, making net migration crucial to the region’s future.
The second goal addresses the fact that remote workers introduce capital into our city. Paychecks from around the nation flow into Bloomington—paychecks that are subsequently spent at local restaurants, small businesses, and stores. Additional tax revenue also benefits our government, enabling better services for all residents.
Recruiting Remote Workers
How does the recruitment process work? A potential resident may learn about the program through a referral or via Make My Move, a marketplace for remote worker recruitment programs throughout the US.
Both BloomingtonRemote.com and MakeMyMove.com list the benefits of our program and the allure of life in our community. Interested individuals can complete a five-minute application. Our program manager reviews the application and arranges an interview via Zoom. Since its inception, the program has attracted and reviewed 700 applications. Select candidates are then offered a position or an invitation to visit Bloomington.
Typically, folks who apply are knowledge workers who aren’t location-bound due to the nature of their remote work. These include professionals from tech to engineering to customer service, including startup founders, software engineers, client service and sales representatives, and graphic designers. We’ve even moved a YouTuber.
Reasons for Choosing Bloomington
First, our central location in the Midwest is advantageous for many.
Many participants have family within the region, particularly in Indiana. Living in a community that shares their political and moral ideals, while being closer to family, is appealing to many. In more colloquial terms: We’re a blue dot in a red state.
Plus, Bloomington is a short drive from great cities like Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, and St. Louis. An international airport is also just an hour away.
Second, Bloomington offers exceptional amenities.
Within a 15-minute radius, we offer a wealth of outdoor opportunities, including Lake Monroe, biking trails, hiking, and fishing. We’re also home to a world-class university that hosts a variety of attractions, shows, and sporting events. The experience of four distinct seasons is another draw.
Bloomington Remote has also sparked unexpected benefits, like the Cosmic Songwriters annual music festival, cofounded by program participant Pablo Fuentes. This festival grew out of the monthly Cosmic Songwriters Club and now spans four days at five different locations in Bloomington.
The Future of Bloomington Remote
The Mill remains committed to attracting remote workers to Bloomington and aims to recruit three new residents each month. We’ll reevaluate this goal at the start of 2024.
Looking ahead, we plan to recruit more software developers. The more people we have who can build companies, the more companies we’ll have. A vast majority of net new job creation comes from companies with fewer than five people, so the more companies we create, the more jobs we create.
Long-term, we need additional funding to support this program. We’re incredibly grateful to the City of Bloomington (CoB) and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) for their current support, as well as to Make My Move, Visit Bloomington, and Cornerstone, who sponsor our monthly remote worker luncheons.
However, as remote work becomes more popular, competition to attract remote workers will increase. Unlike many cities, we’ve managed to attract talent without offering cash incentives, instead providing membership to The Mill. To ensure the program’s sustainability, we need to plan for its long-term funding.
Investing in Bloomington Remote
The results speak for themselves: According to the Public Policy Institute at IU, the 40 residents we’ve attracted so far generate $88k in local tax revenue and $157k in state tax revenue. In other words, CoB and IEDC recoup their investment within the first year—and each subsequent year thereafter. The compounding effect is substantial.
However, The Mill needs additional funding to continue running this vital program. To move 40 residents, which creates economic output of $4 million annually, requires a budget of $250k. CoB and IEDC offset $145k of this, leaving a $105k gap that The Mill currently covers. If you’d like to contribute to this invaluable program and support the economic and cultural impact these individuals have on our community, please email me at email@example.com.