Improving Bloomington Through Remote Work

by Jan 26, 2021

Crossposted from the Herald-Times, this is Executive Director Pat East’s regular column

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has witnessed a shift in the job market. Remote work, which used to be an unusual perk, has now become the norm for many businesses. Post-pandemic, Gartner says 47% of companies will allow full-time remote work, and FlexJobs says 65% of employees will want that option.

This historic evolution means that individual talent is more powerful than companies. Cities no longer need to attract an Amazon to grow their tax base; they just need to attract 100 of their remote workers who can live anywhere. It also means that all cities are now in competition with each other. Cities at the forefront of this trend will be the ones who reap the rewards in this new form of economic development.

In response, The Mill is launching a new initiative called Bloomington Remote. The goals are simple: 1) infuse Bloomington with more smart people doing interesting things and 2) boost the economy.

The first is because smart people doing interesting things want to hang around other smart people doing interesting things. If we can concentrate more of these folks together, it creates a flywheel effect and becomes a true and real competitive advantage for Bloomington. The low population growth of our region has long been recognized as a significant barrier to economic growth. Attracting in-bound migration is essential to our community’s future.

The second is because remote workers import capital into our city. Paychecks from around the nation will come into Bloomington—paychecks which then are spent at restaurants, small businesses, and stores. Our government also reaps the benefit of additional tax revenue, which helps all citizens.

To kick off our planning and strategy, we’ve engaged the founder of Tulsa Remote. To help us avoid needless bruising and make us more efficient with our resources, we’ll tap into his three years of experience:

  • It attracted 30,000 applications from all over the world for 100 seats
  • Every $1 invested was paid back within one year through increased tax revenue

Every remote program has its unique characteristics, and our current thinking is there will be three broad ingredients to Bloomington Remote:

  1. Cohort: When remote workers move, they’ll want friends and shared experiences. Establishing that community component is important to a successful transition and something The Mill does well.
  2. Immersion: Bloomington has a lot to offer, particularly for families. We’ll ensure candidates understand the breadth of programs and attractions and that they take advantage of them after moving.
  3. Coworking: In addition to finding a house, they’ll need a workspace too. The Mill is a premier coworking space with a diverse membership and world-class amenities and programming.

Moving expenses are another consideration. Similar programs offer $10,000 per remote worker. This helps generate press and offers candidates some social equity. The first three ingredients create an exciting feeling to the program and the moving expenses make the decision easier.

We’ll also need to define who to accept to the program. Working remotely is just a base requirement; we also want folks who will contribute to our community for years to come.

While The Mill is funding the consultant and initial marketing ourselves, we’re looking for an organization or entity to contribute to moving expenses. To attract 20 remote workers, which is our goal, we need $200,000. We aim reduce that amount by putting more weight on the first three components to attract candidates.

We’ve already engaged several partners who are supportive of the program: Smithville, the Town of Ellettsville, Owen County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development, Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, and Bloomington Board of Realtors. We hope to engage more as we launch.

Two pieces of feedback we’ve already received, and which you’re likely thinking about, are:

  1. Can Bloomington compete with warmer cities? Yes! Three of the top 10 states with the most per capita migration during the pandemic are Idaho, Oregon, and South Dakota.
  2. Won’t this exacerbate Bloomington’s housing issue? 20 remote workers comprise 0.02% of our population. 20 is a meaningful amount to restaurants, small businesses, and stores but not to the overall population.

If you have ideas on how to make Bloomington Remote even better, we’re at the very beginning stages of our planning and strategy and welcome feedback. And if you are an individual or organization who can contribute to moving expenses, please get in touch at [email protected]