Florida has seen an influx of remote workers due to its low cost of living, with many people making their way to Northeast Florida.
In St. Johns County, for example, about 20-25 percent of people moving into the area are “bringing their jobs with them and working remotely,” said Scott Maynard, director of economic development for the county’s Chamber of Commerce.
“I think it’s the livability of the county — the cost of living, the good schools, the idea that you can live, work and play here,” he said. “Also, the aspect of living in a somewhat rural county that still gives you access to a lot of amenities such as the beaches and St. Johns River that makes this area so attractive.”
“Many (remote workers) are attracted here, and that’s a good thing for our region,” he said.
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Remote working has really taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic, said JAXUSA President Aundra Wallace.
JAXUSA Partnership is the regional economic development arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce that serves seven counties, including St. Johns.
“You’re seeing tremendous growth in Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns (counties),” Wallace said. “I would venture to stay that the growth itself certainly increased in 2020. If you look at LinkedIn’s surveys for fastest in migration, Salt Lake City was No. 1 and Jacksonville was No. 2 in 2020. In 2021, Miami was No. 1 and Jacksonville was No. 2.”
Many employees look for jobs that allow them to work from home
Wallace said many cities are still gathering data regarding how many people are working remotely. He said it will likely be late 2022 before we know the full scope of permanent remote workers.
According to a Gallup poll from October, about three in 10 remote workers (31%) said losing the option of working from home would make them extremely likely to look for other employment.
A March Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes of people of working age showed 54% of unemployed respondents were exclusively considering or preferred work from home jobs.
When compared to other major Southeastern cities, such as Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando and Tampa, the cost of living in much of Northeast Florida is typically lower.
Part of this cost-of-living gap is the cost of school, Wallace said.
Compared to other metropolitan areas in which parents may want to send their children to private schools, St. Johns County, Clay and Nassau counties are among the highest rated in Florida.
“People can make the decision about ‘if I’m sending my children to private school in the Northeast, I don’t have to send them to private school in Jacksonville,'” he said. “They’re also in the position of possibly cutting their housing costs and reducing the costs of education for their children.”
Lifestyle options, sense of community considered when relocating
Beth Harralson, an implementation specialist at School Specialty who lived in left her teaching position almost two years ago. Now she runs webinars for school and district curriculum on learning disabilities.
She said she has “no regrets leaving because of the burnout.”
“March of 2020 was the last straw,” she said. “I taught for seven years, and then the pandemic hit, and I was working like 60-70 hours a week in like a 300-square-foot garage apartment. I just didn’t want to be in my house 24/7 and virtual teaching.”
After seven years as a teacher, Harralson said she wanted something still in education but outside the parents and the changes going on with virtual learning.
She took her hybrid job hoping to go into the office more, but after about the first year she ended up staying home — now in Jacksonville — since the office was often mostly empty.
Harralson said her job can be isolating without the office social interaction but that it’s been a good break from teaching and given her enough time back in her life outside of work to be able to build more of a community for herself. She also said the money she’s been saving on gas by not having a commute has helped her break into other areas for social interaction.
Lifestyle options and finding a sense of community are big draws to the Jacksonville area, Wallace said, in addition to the low cost of living.
“You can have a coastal, beach lifestyle; you can have an urban lifestyle; you can have a suburban lifestyle; and you can have a rural lifestyle all within pretty much a 30-minute drive from each other,” he said. “People can have the life that they want and an affordable life.”
St. Augustine reporter Colleen Michele Jones contributed to this report.