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  • Writer's pictureGreg Lindsay

Which Zoomtowns are Tomorrow's Boomtowns?

As the pandemic recedes into America’s cultural memory, its greatest legacy — the untethering of jobs from places thanks to remote work — may only be gathering steam. While remote openings comprise only 14% of current job postings on LinkedIn, they attract more than half (52%) of total applicants. The hunger for remote and the qualities it offers — shorter commutes, greater productivity, and more work-life flexibility — is pronounced and isn’t abating. And that has still-unfolding consequences for America’s economic geography, no matter how desperately firms order their employees back to the office.

Millions of Americans have already moved thanks to remote policies, and millions more are likely to follow — as many as 18.9 million are already planning such moves, according to a survey conducted by Upwork last year. These projections have been borne out by the latest Census figures, which underscore a still-accelerating shift from states with large, expensive cities (e.g. California, New York, Illinois) to the Sun Belt (e.g. Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee).

For instance, few would have predicted the meteoric rise of “Zoomtowns,” a moniker describing pandemic-era destinations ranging in size from vacation homes around Tahoe and Bozeman to warm weather magnets such as Austin and Miami. What they all had in common was new arrivals’ hunger for more private space inside larger homes— a craving that subsided as the world reopened. This has led to whiplash for quintessential boomtowns like Phoenix and Boise, which are simultaneously suffering from stalled housing markets and the highest inflation in the country.

Given the persistence of remote work, Zoomtowns are clearly here to stay. But which will be tomorrow’s boomtowns? Or will new hotspots emerge — “high-amenity low-rent places,” in the words of the Economic InnovationGroup — possessing the right combination of ingredients for fully-remote lifestyles?

To answer this question, we turned to our Resilience Index™ — a proprietary 18-point measure of climate- socio-economic resilience for all 40,000 ZIP codes in the United States, with scores ranging from 1 to 100 — and combined those numbers with a set of variables in our Alpha Finder™ tool most relevant to the success of tomorrow’s Zoomtowns. These included the lowest overall climate risk coupled with highest air quality, and new housing starts paired with the number of available vacation homes. Most important for developers and investors, we also targeted regions with the largest number of non-family households, the highest potential cost savings from zero-energy homes, and areas designated as federal Opportunity Zones.

The results included some of the largest urban counties in the country — the rise of remote work doesn’t necessarily mean the downfall of cities — along with a handful that have been overlooked amidst the hype. Below is our handpicked sampling of future Zoomtowns-turned-boomtowns best-suited to varying geographies and lifestyles.

The Best for Urbanites: Multnomah County, OR

While Boise has boomed and the Bay Area emptied out, Portland has flown under the radar as the West’s Goldilocks-sized city (and country’s 25th largest metro). Climate models are generally kind to the Pacific Northwest, with a rock-bottom drought score (1/100) and underrated wildfire risk (16/100) despite the now-annual days of smoke. New state laws expanding multi-family zoning along with the designation of downtown Portland as an Opportunity Zone promises to boost the supply of new housing by 100,000 units by 2035. The Portlandia-era joke that the city is “where young people go to retire” turns out to be true — it’s one of the most demographically desirable in the country.

The Best of the Midwest: Delaware County, OH

One of the wealthiest counties in Ohio is also the most climate resilient in the state, with marginal risk of catastrophes (4/100 overall) under even the most pessimistic IPCC scenarios. Its vulnerability is also low, thanks to its wealth and young population. And being an affluent suburb of Columbus — one of the few Midwest metros currently gaining population — means well-funded schools (83/100) and hospitals (84/100) to boot.

The Best for Living on the Water: Muskegon County, MI

This popular vacation destination on Michigan’s “West Coast” boasts freshwater beaches and boating, minus California’s risk of sea-level rise (8/100) and historic drought (9/100). The city of Muskegon (pop: 38,000) is an hour’s drive from Grand Rapids, and local strengths include public schools and healthcare. But don’t worry about beating the rush — Michigan trailed only California and Illinoisin demand for outbound U-Haul truckslast year. The state remains one of America’s largest geographic arbitrage opportunities, particularly for remote workers unshackled from local legacy industries such as furniture and automotive.

The Best of the West: El Paso County, CO

Long an affordable Front Range alternative to Denver, Colorado Springs possesses the same combination of urban amenities and access to nature that once made its neighborAmerica’s most desirable city. Its elevated risk of drought (61/100) compared to other Zoomtowns on this list is offset by sunshine and renewable energy potential — annual cost savings from zero-energy homes average $2,277 and are only rising.

TheBest for Country Living: Simpson County, KY

Lying north across the state line from Nashville, the county seat of Franklin is best known for (what else?) horse racing. Although the county is somewhat vulnerable to summer heat (41/100) and storms (44/100) in the years ahead, it is among the best-insulated in the country from drought (5/100), floods (5/100), and fires (1/100). Best for those seeking rural- or small-town life, Simpson possesses excellent schools, hospitals, and public safety. Close enough to Nashville to enjoy its nightlife and other amenities, it’s not so close as to be subsumed in its exurban expansion.

Preserving the American Dream of appreciating home ownership will require enhanced foresight for families, property developers, and businesses alike. We hope our research can promote far-sighted climate adaptation at a national scale. Climate Alpha offers a Resilience Index dashboard for city and state officials through our partnership withMastercard’s City Possible initiative, and works with real estate managers and investors to promote a climate-resilient future for all Americans.

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