The future of telecommuting: Move to Idaho, keep job in Los Angeles

Between 2005 and 2007, Idaho generated more patents per worker than any other state. This is no fluke, as professionals leave congested metro areas seeking wider open spaces.

The Internet has spurred a new migration wave: professionals who seek their own private Idahos, literally.

A few years back, I was amazed to read stories of professionals that moved to the unspoiled open spaces of Utah while still keeping their day jobs in LA. They preferred to commute, sometimes daily, by plane, back and forth from their new digs, rather than continue to deal with the freeways and congestion closer to the office.

While it often seems the bulk of the economic action is concentrated on the coasts, there's a story slowly unfolding that suggests our networked economy is supporting a new breed of immigrants to cities deeper within the heartland. And they're invigorating cities with an entrepreneurial spirit.

As discussed in a recent commentary in The Economist, Boise, Idaho is a prime example of a quality-of-life-city that is attracting entrepreneurs and professionals who only need the Internet to keep in touch with the rest of the global economy. As we saw in Silicon Valley, brains like to cluster together, and, thanks to the Internet, they don't have to stay in congested, high-cost-of-living areas -- they're packing and moving to areas that still have a rural character.

There are other areas also seeing a surge in professionals untethered to their jobs and attracted by wider open spaces, entrepreneurial (as well as weather) climate, universities, and other amenities: Salt Lake City (noted above), Colorado Springs, Madison, Wisconsin, and Austin, Texas to name a few. Richard Florida did a great job discussing the rise of these professional/tech-class hubs a few years back in his seminal work, The Rise of the Creative Class.

The Economist article describes how Boise is one such up-and-coming area:

"There is a lot of space in Boise. A 25-mile green belt runs through the city. The nearby foothills are latticed with biking trails. At 3,000 people per square mile, the population density is less than a twentieth of Manhattan’s. Yet although Boise is remote—the nearest big city is 340 miles away—it is no backwater. Since 1978 it has been home to Micron, a large semiconductor firm. (The local potato billionaire was an early investor, leading to inevitable jokes about the shift from chips to microchips.) A cluster of high-tech start-ups has appeared. Surprisingly, between 2005 and 2007 Idaho generated more patents per worker than any other state."

The article observes that the population of the Boise-Nampa metro area "has nearly doubled in the past two decades, sparking a property bubble. Yet housing is still laughably cheap: $150,000 buys you a spacious house with a garden. In the nice parts of Palo Alto, it buys you a poky flat."

At one time, when Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard where building audio oscillators in their garage, San Jose-Santa Clara was a relatively unspoiled, rugged area, too. Let's just hope Boise doesn't become a tangle of overpriced houses and freeways.  But we're more likely to see a lot of smaller, "virtual" Silicon Valleys springing up in select locations across the land -- no longer do we need huge clusters of companies and professionals in close physical proximity to each other. Now, we have the advantage of the Internet to establish businesses and interact with the rest of the world from any location on the planet.

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