Returning to a different economy

Twice during virtual appearances in November, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said what many business people have been thinking.

"We're not going back to the same economy, we're going back to a different economy," Powell said. He went on to note that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated ongoing trends, including the increasing use of technology, automation, and telework.

Whether you call it telework, remote work, or just working from home, the idea of productivity without being in the office is taking hold. In our recent survey of consultants, for example, more than 90% were working from home because of the pandemic.

As Forbes reported in November, employers are beginning to accept the idea of remote workers, including workers who live outside the usual “commuting zones.”

Forbes went on to say, “According to The Conference Board September 2020 survey, before the pandemic, only 12 percent of surveyed U.S. organizations were willing to hire 100 percent virtual workers anywhere in the U.S. or internationally. In comparison, by September 2020, 36 percent were willing: a threefold increase.”

These organizations have now concluded that “remote work works,” as Forbes says, and they realize they can potentially increase their talent pool and lower labor costs by hiring from less expensive markets.

And the less expensive markets are openly competing for workers to move in.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, is offering $10,000 in cash plus some other incentives to get people to move in. The only requirement is that you have to be a remote worker or a self-employed worker already.

So far the “Tulsa Remote” program has attracted 400 remote workers to the city, and only three of those have left.

In southwest Michigan, the “Move to Michigan” campaign offers $15,000 toward the purchase of a home. This is administered as a loan program with a portion of the loan forgiven each year, depending on the length of stay. Permanent residents will have the entire loan forgiven if they meet all requirements.

The campaign is primarily focused on attracting workers in the Chicago area but is open to other states.

Perhaps the most famous relocation campaign is the Remote Worker Grant Program operated by the State of Vermont. The program attracted 140 people from 38 states who were given an average $3,571 apiece before the funding ran out in January.

According to a recent article in The Hechinger Report, though, tech workers had already been moving to Vermont from such cities as Boston before the program was launched. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped to boost their numbers.

Focusing on Burlington, the article notes that “The number of people who moved to Burlington in the spring from bigger cities was double what it was during the same period last year.”

The remote workers quoted in the article all say they’re committed to staying in Burlington, but nobody knows what the future of work will look like. We may indeed be going back to a different economy as the Fed Chairman said, or we may soon be returning to the same economy.

What do you foresee? Are you comfortable with the prospect of employees and consultants working in areas a state or two away from the company, or do you prefer to see them closer? Tell us at