MINOT, ND – Downtown San Francisco is empty.
Where it used to be a bustling place, it has become a de facto ghost town due to the tech industry, which was once a bulwark of the city’s economy, leaning towards a dispersed workforce. The tech industry is uniquely positioned more than others to allow employees to work from home, and the impact on San Francisco has been profound.
The New York Times reported, “Today San Francisco is the bleakest major city in America.” “In any given week, office buildings are at about 40% of their pre-pandemic levels, while vacancy rates have jumped from 5% to 24% since 2019.”
San Francisco was once a model for the trend toward urban living, but now it may be a bellwether for reversals as workers, empowered by remote work possibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, both reveal they and we imposed on, when it demands more flexibility come where they live.
Yes, some companies are trying to reverse the work-from-home trend, but I’m not sure they can wipe out the lamp. For many workers, across many industries, remote work is probably here to stay.
And this is a huge opportunity for North Dakota.
One of the biggest challenges ahead of the upcoming legislative session is our state’s workforce shortage, and to that end, Gov. Doug Burgum proposed a package of policies aimed at making our state a more attractive place to live and work Is.
He has kept a package of $ 76 million for the purpose of increasing access to child care.
It is seeking a $50 million Destination Development Fund to enhance tourism and recreation opportunities.
He has proposed lowering our state personal income tax that would eliminate it for 60% of income earners who live here. This represents a tax cut of almost half a billion per biennial.
Some Burgum’s Department of Commerce is already working on a “Find the Good Life in North Dakota” program. Think of it as recruitment. Our state is virtually identifying people currently living elsewhere and urging them to work here.
These initiatives are aimed at attracting workers here to address our workforce shortage. When I recently interviewed Bergum for my podcast, he pointed out that there are tens of thousands of job opportunities in the state, yet fewer than a thousand are collecting unemployment.
We need to go to North Dakota and take some of these jobs. But it can be a tough sell because many other states are also struggling to find labor, and the pressing needs of our workforce shortage shouldn’t stop us from trying to recruit another type of worker.
Those who already have a job but now, thanks to the possibilities of remote work, have some flexibility in where they want to live.
The cool thing is that what our state leaders, like Bergum, are already talking about will apply to remote workers as well.
Despite being a rural state, we punch above our weight when it comes to internet access. According to the state’s Department of Information Technology, we are in the top 10 among states when it comes to internet access, and in the top 4 when it comes to overall internet infrastructure. Important stuff for anyone hoping to work remotely.
In addition, an employee who already has a job may enjoy receiving a “raise” by relocating from their location to a low-tax state such as North Dakota. Our taxes are already among the lowest in the country, and the ranking could improve based on this legislative session.
And any bad perceptions about our state’s remoteness, and inclement weather, can be quelled by things like the “Find the Good Life” program, which emphasizes the good aspects of living here.
Also, consider that while not appealing to everyone, small-town living may be just the ticket for some workers. Housing prices are definitely lower. Outdoor recreation opportunities – hunting, hiking, fishing, etc. – are abundant.
Bringing people to work from home into North Dakota won’t necessarily help address our workforce shortage directly, but it could help indirectly. They have life partners and companions. He has children. Those people need jobs, too, and they can fill some of the vacancies we already have.
Is everybody who was living and working in San Francisco, or New York, or other urban centers who are losing people because of this change in how we operate, coming to North Dakota to live and work want?
Absolutely not. But an influx of a few people, and even a few thousand working from home, into our state can make a big difference.
This is something that the state should take forward.