Reverse Migration: From the Coast to the Heartland

6 years ago

Lately, it seems companies and people are starting to recognize that business in the United States does not consist of only New York City and California. There are, in fact, many wonderful places to live in between. People are choosing to live in cities that are a little quieter, a little cheaper, and a little more family friendly, as buzzwords like “work/life balance” echo in the halls of corporate America. More companies are choosing to set up shop in places like Colorado, Kansas City or Oklahoma. It’s not because of the weather.

In 2000, my husband and I moved to Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. I had grown up here, and though my husband and I had ridden the wave of his career all over the country after college, when it came time to settle down with our kids, we wanted to be close to family. But in 2004 he was offered a job opportunity that moved our little family to San Diego. My kids were two and four at the time. Believing that this job would be a huge boost to his career, and that if we were going to go off on a lark and make a move like that we should do it before the kids were in school, we went for it. We rented a house instead of trying to buy in what turned out to be the top of the housing market boom, before the fall.

And we loved it. I especially loved San Diego. We moved right before Christmas, and quickly discovered winter does indeed come to San Diego, just not like we were used to in the Midwest. It rained the first few weeks we were there, and I found myself alone in a new city with two small, very active children and no way to engage other adults while my husband was on a business trip to China. We spent a lot of time at the McDonald’s Playplace.

But once we came out the other side of spring and beach season opened up, I was hooked. I didn’t even mind the traffic on the I-5. We went down to the beach to play in the sand the way most people go to the park. We spent our Saturdays frolicking among among the tourists at Legoland and the world renowned San Diego Zoo with just a wave of a membership card. We met some wonderful friends, with whom we are still close today.

But when the job didn’t turn out the way we thought it would and the housing market imploded, we decided to cut bait and go home. We’ve never regretted it. Our little rental house in San Diego served our purpose nicely, but it was on a busy street where I didn’t want the kids to play in the front. Here in suburban Kansas City, my kids roam the quiet side streets on bikes and scooters with their friends until dark or dinner, whichever comes first. Yes, we could have found neighborhoods like that in San Diego, but we couldn’t afford to live in them.

2009-08-06T17-09-14 -- IMG_7837Many people are discovering how easy it is to afford to live in the Midwest. Companies have started to notice, too, because it’s easier to lure talented employees to work for you when you can offer them a cost of living that demonstrates the American Dream.

Many who relocate to Kansas City come for jobs in the Life Science areas, be it human or animal health. Given that many people think of Kansas City as “Cowtown,” it’s not surprising to discover animal health companies like Hill’s Science Diet pet food and Bayer CropScience nearby.  Kansas is even number ten on the Forbes Best States For Business, up from number 15 last year.

Did you see who else is on that list? Not California or New York.

  • How about Utah? Ever heard of a little genealogy research website called
  • Colorado -- Boulder and surrounding suburbs exploded with the IPO/dotcom boom and felt the bust just as hard. Now the focus is on companies who champion green, sustainable, and organic, much more in line with the Colorado mystique.
  • North Carolina -- Raleigh’s Research Triangle Park (RTP) has become known for tech companies like IBM and Cisco.

But seriously, Utah? You know who lives in Utah, right? Heather Armstrong left L.A. for Utah years ago. She essentially made the same choice many of us did -- to settle somewhere off the beaten path, because location doesn’t matter when you run a business on the internet, anyway.

Some other bloggers who left the coast for smaller cities without an ocean view, and write about it:

I loved living in San Diego. And I love living in Kansas. We look back now and consider our nearly two years in San Diego as sort of an extended, working vacation. Maybe someday we’ll buy a condo and be snowbirds (like when the kids have graduated college and haven’t spent all of our money.)  But for now, we’re pretty content raising our little family right here in the middle. And we welcome the influx of transplanted Big City folk who have figured out our secret.

Jenny Meade writes at We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto, and contributes at Midwest Parents.
She has two darling but wild little boys she calls Chaos and Mayhem.

Find her on Twitter.

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