Leaving the Bay Area - The Great Tech Migration of 2021

There has always been a lot of chatter on other cities recreating the Silicon Valley ethos. Even knock-off names developed - Silicon Alley (NYC), Silicon Beach (Santa Monica), Silicon Slopes (Utah), etc. This was all before COVID. Of course this year,  all the chatter is about remote work. Does company location even matter? Instead of companies moving, it’s the people migrating into Miami, LA, and even abroad (there are tax implications but I hear it all the time) -- and working remotely from wherever they choose.

Well, add me to the list. I’ve officially moved away from the Bay Area and have settled in San Diego. I took a brief (and always planned as temporary) stop in West Hollywood for the majority of the COVID lockdown -- but have now landed in San Diego. My own story is a bit more complicated than just chasing sun or fun or the latest hot spot. But these are also factors, even for me. In the post-COVID world -- how much of the Silicon Valley powerhouse will remain?

How Remote Work Impacts the Migration

More remote work and remote employees are here to stay. This was happening pre-COVID. The labor migration started with access to talent and lower costs -- but talent first. Top companies seek talent foremost and cost savings second.

COVID gave permission to many employees who were on the fence. Being forced to work from home meant that those small city apartments needed an upgrade. Without the draw of the office, nature began calling. You get the idea. With more talented employees moving away in higher numbers, companies will have to adapt -- and the truth is, if they survived the last year, they already have.

The New Hot Spots

There’s plenty of other places to go. Each has their own draw. And people each have their own motivations. Fun, family, space, the outdoors, weather. Here’s what I hear most.

Southern California - As someone who grew up in Northern California, I didn’t always get Southern California. So busy. Smog. More traffic. But, man, the weather. The sun. The beach. And now after having worked in Pasadena, lived in West Hollywood and San Diego, spent time in Santa Monica -- okay, I get it. There’s a lot here. More diversity than Northern California. The weather. LA culture scene. More than the Bay. I am here for all of that plus I’ve got family in San Diego. It just added up to be here. Did I mention the weather?

Miami - If you follow the Tech / VC Twittersphere, you’ve seen at least 10,000 tweets about Miami. I’ve been. Maybe not enough. It’s still Florida people. Really I think this is the NorCal -> SoCal equivalent of NYC -> Miami.

New York City - NYC has always followed Silicon Valley, but NYC will survive the “city migration storm” better than SF. NYC just has more. More industries. More culture. More apartments. NYC is my favorite city in the world. It will continue to be a powerhouse in all things. I expect it to continue to move up the ranks in the tech ecosystem.

Texas, Colorado, and Others - For everywhere else, I think it’s a different narrative that fits best. It’s the expansion of technology more broadly. Everything will eventually involve a tech element. Tech is assaulting every industry. Players in traditional industries can win if they embrace technology. Works both ways. Every “sales force” should be using Salesforce.com (or related - you get the idea). In that sense, every city, with whatever companies are there, will need more tech workers. That’s in addition to whatever “tech” company plants an office there. A rising tide lifts all boats. These aren’t going to displace SF or NYC etc, but will provide additional opportunities for migrating tech workers.

Just a natural progression?

Yes, a portion of this is just simply a natural process. That doesn’t make for good clickbait headlines though. Software is eating the world. You’ll see tech workers in every city.

San Francisco and the Bay Area’s to lose?

In some ways. But I don’t think the center is gonna change anytime soon. Most industries retain a dominant geographical headquarters. Detroit is still the center of automotive. But, the luster of Detroit is not what it once was, as that industry isn’t the cutting edge market leader. And international competition plays a role too. Etc. That will also happen to San Francisco and the Bay Area. Not quickly though. And there is a bit of self-inflicted chaos that doesn’t help.

The New Normal

As business owners, we need to stay ahead of the game. Find ways to make remote work. Business travel will come back. Offsites and get-togethers will be as important as ever -- if not more. Hopefully there’s some office space savings that pay for it, but don’t count on it. It’s probably just one more cost of doing business. And that’s okay too.

So, live where you want to live, and let your employees do the same. Companies who embrace this philosophy will see the future -- no matter where their headquarters are. Those who don’t will be a victim of the great tech migration of 2021.