A recent New York Times article on California’s housing crisis has a dire warning for small communities: the remote workers are coming. We have to stop and ask, is this such a bad thing? After all, countless articles and research projects, and even a best-selling book on the creative class, are dedicated to making communities more appealing to innovators and start-up companies.
Small municipalities like Jefferson County want to attract young talent and new businesses as the baseline for economic growth. Despite its dour tone, even that New York Times article starts off speaking about the success of a small community because of the influx of big city migrants. Local businesses get more traffic. Property values rise. Income levels increase and unemployment decreases.
Attracting or building businesses used to be the only way to attract this kind of prosperity, but with the rise of remote work, smaller communities can market themselves directly to people. If people have work, what attracts them to a community? Pricing, safety, convenience and cool. Below, we outline eight things that attract the creative, remote-work class to small communities. Spoiler alert: Jefferson County has them all.
Cost of Living
If you can live anywhere and keep your same income, you’d want to live some place where your income goes further, right? A longstanding tradition of retirement migration confirms this trend, and as location becomes less important for many white-collar workers, they’ll look outside of overcrowded metropolitan areas with exorbitant housing prices. Cost of living isn’t the end-all, be-all, though; quality of life is just as important. Providing a high quality of life at a lower cost is the sweet spot for attracting remote-work migrants.
Jefferson County’s average cost of living is below the national average on every key factor. Just to assuage the fears of anyone worried about housing prices rising out of reach with an influx of creative talent: Jefferson County’s housing costs are currently slightly more than half the national average.
The idea of living in a community where no one feels the need to lock their doors has always been a major motivator driving people into smaller communities. With the freedom to work anywhere, a remote-working class will choose a place that has low crime. Just like cost of living, this won’t be the single biggest factor for most people. Rather, people generally set a maximum threshold of crime that’s acceptable if a place meets other criteria.
Yet again, Jefferson County falls below the national average on both major crime demographics: violent crime and property crime. It even fairs very well in comparison to most nearby counties, including more rural, small community counties.
Proximity to Higher Education
Proximity to higher education satisfies two key needs for any creative class worker or budding entrepreneur: 1) learning and development opportunities and 2) qualified workforce. Universities are hotbeds of innovation and entrepreneurship, two defining characteristics of the creative class. Remote workers want to stay connected to a broad-minded network of ideas no matter where they live and have access to advanced technologies and resources. As their businesses expand, having a pipeline of educated students nearby not only makes their growth natural, it supports the greater community’s.
Most of Jefferson County is just half an hour’s drive from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the state’s major land-grant university. UT also has an extension based in Jefferson County, and the county is home to Carson Newman University, plus Walters State Community College is just down the road.
Why would a remote worker need access to the interstate? Because almost no job is fully, 100% remote. Usually, workers need to travel to their company’s home base or meet with clients a few times a year, and being isolated from transportation centers can spell major headaches. The creative class wants to be part of a small community without being cut off from the wider world.
Both Interstate 80 and Interstate 40, major north/south and east/west thoroughfares respectively, pass through Jefferson County. Fifty percent of the U.S. population lives within a day’s drive of East Tennessee, and there are three major international airports within a four-hour drive.
Local Food and Drink
This is where we switch from the basic needs checklist to the elements that make a smaller community cool and attractive. A diverse restaurant scene is a must, and in recent years local breweries and coffee houses seem to indicate a thriving community. Remote workers tend to gather at these places to work and network, but let’s face it — good food is just an essential part of what makes people happy.
Farm to table takes a matter of minutes in Jefferson County, and our community boasts dozens of local restaurants, from the old-school Tinsley-Bible Drug lunch counter and soda fountain to the iconic Pal’s hamburgers to fine lakeside dining like Angelo’s at the Point.
Research confirms that one of the best ways to attract young workers is through outdoor recreation like river walks and town centers, lakes, parks, hiking and things to do outside the house. After all, if your home was also your office, you’d want more opportunities to get out of it too. Outdoor enthusiasts look for different things in small communities, but general access to multiple natural outlets in every season is a must.
Jefferson County attracts thousands of visitors each year to both Douglas and Cherokee lakes for recreation and fishing. Located in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Jefferson County has access to some of the best hiking and mountain biking on the east coast.
Attractive small communities have a sense of place and history that people want to join. Downtown areas with preserved historic buildings and beautiful architecture convey an authenticity that the creative class craves in their communities. Showcasing history through events and festivals also brings communities together, providing a thriving cultural community.
Tennessee’s second oldest town, Dandridge boasts historical charm in spades with 21 walkable historical sites. In the wider Jefferson County community, Cherokee Dam helps tell the story of TVA bringing electricity to the state, and sites like the Lawson D. Franklin House show the area’s early prosperity.
An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Creatives are going to create. Low tax rates and key infrastructure like reliable internet and transportation access attract businesses, but being part of communities fostering business growth and innovation attracts local business risk takers. The creative class wants to connect to an entrepreneurial ecosystem that can inspire them and that they can help grow and support.
The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce provides just that thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in our area. We connect regional businesses with each other to foster idea exchange and provide valuable support information on how to start and grow businesses. We see attracting the creative class as a potential boon for our area, both in the rise of customers and potential rise of new businesses.
Joining a Chamber of Commerce in Jefferson County
If you have a business in Jefferson County and learning more business growth strategies is your goal, we’re here to help. Become a member of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce today to start taking advantage of all the workshops, networking, and other benefits we have to offer. To find out more about how to join or to learn about how we can be a difference-maker for your small business, contact us online or by calling 865-397-9642.