Mile Post: Rise of the remote worker
Imagine getting paid to work from some of the world’s most scenic recreation destinations. Ten years ago, few people would have considered it. But what was once a provocative marketing angle to attract workaholics to luxury resorts exploded as a strategic defense for keeping companies open during a pandemic.
With remote work now pitched as a sign-on bonus in a tight skilled labor market, its prevalence impacts Park City. But how much? And what is it about Summit County that appeals to this new workforce?
One of Park City’s more visible residents, Amy Roberts, is VP of communications at KNB Communications, a public relations marketing agency based in New York City. But you likely know her for her weekly column in The Park Record.
“I had been working for a local organization, which went temporarily remote in March of 2020,” Roberts said. “I realized I was much more productive and overall happier not going into an office. So in February of 2021, I decided to make remote work permanent and took the job with KNB.”
Roberts is one of around 48.7 million people in America, or about 35% of the employed workforce, who work from home as a result of the pandemic. This is according to a Current Population Survey (CPS) published by the Census Bureau.
And Roberts is not alone among these new remote workers in seeing the Park City area as an ideal home base. The real estate market has been hot since COVID emerged, and there’s been a sense in the community that the pandemic opened the door for many of the people moving to town to live here while working remotely.
Jeff Jones, economic development director for Summit County, said the data shows that remote workers are indeed prevalent.
“According to the American Community Survey, the people who work remotely in Summit County make up 13.7% of the labor force,” he said. That’s almost double the estimates in Wasatch County (7.5%) and the entire state of Utah, which averages around 6.6%.
The survey also listed Clearlake, California (13.4%), and Taos, New Mexico (12.3%) as top destinations. Even St. George reports a remote labor force of 13.4%. If you see a trend of remote workers flocking to areas with rich amenities — like Park City’s outdoor recreation and cultural offerings — you’d be right.
Roberts believes a destination is also determined by what it isn’t.
“Traditionally, people have been forced to live close to where they work. But now that so many employees are not at the mercy of a company’s address, it makes sense they’re choosing a location more compatible with their lifestyle. Recreation, weather, climate, quality of life, access to nature — they’re all kind of a given in Park City,” she said, adding that easy access to an international airport makes those quick trips back to headquarters relatively easy.
This new labor force may even be big enough to impact, say, the grocery store line, or the ability to get a last-minute reservation at a Main Street restaurant. But according to Jones, it’s unlikely to exacerbate the area’s affordable housing crunch in the long term because many of the workers will earn wages that allow them to break into Park City’s pricey real estate market.
“Prior to the advent of the shared economy and Airbnbs, for instance, much of the existing housing product could be offered to residents,” he said. “But because the return on that (for a property owner) is much less than short-term rentals, that’s where the competition would be. A higher-wage worker can rent another house, whereas it’s harder for a worker collecting lower wages to have that option.”
Regardless, it seems likely that Park City’s remote workers are here to stay. An Enterprise Technology Research survey, for example, predicts that the percentage of permanent remote workers is expected to double this year.
What emerged as a solution for companies in the early days of the health crisis has likely transformed the workforce — and by extension Park City — permanently.
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