Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ditching DC: Choosing Akron Over Raleigh

Creative Class real estate markets are tanking. De rigueur is employing geographic arbitrage. The world is flat:

"I know other young adults living in the [Boston-Washington] Corridor who, like me, are tiring of the 'rat race' already in our 20s and want to re-establish ourselves in cities like Pittsburgh so we can prepare to start our families in healthier overall environments with lower stress, less expense, and friendlier surroundings."

One message board post does not a trend make. But I make it my business to track similar proclamations and then see if these case studies start showing up in the data. Another story:

On Memorial Day 2007, my sister called from suburban Maryland shortly after I had returned from my early-morning run along the lakefront path. I didn't have any plans for the holiday, so I was looking forward to a relaxing, uneventful day.

That hope faded as soon as my sister, a single mother with three young sons at home, began talking. “The apartment leasing office sent me a letter. The rent is going up again! We can't afford to live in this area much longer.”

I nodded sympathetically. She knew that I had moved to Chicago less than two years before in part because I had never been able to rent a one-bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood. In my 14 years in the D.C. area, I had lived in relatives' homes, boarding houses, a group home, a basement apartment and studios in high-rise buildings. Even though I was a 35-year-old professional, I was still living like a college student. ...

... “I'm not telling you not to move to Raleigh,” I clarified. “I simply want you to know all of your options before you make a decision. If Raleigh is the best place for you, then you should go there. But don't relocate there just because everyone else is. If you want, I can make a list of additional cities for you today.”

“I'd appreciate that.”

That afternoon, I e-mailed her that promised list. Ten months later, my sister and the boys boarded a Greyhound bus for a one-way trip headed not south, but west. Last February, she bought her dream house in Akron, a city once dubbed “The Rubber Capital of the World.” Her adopted hometown is now the center of the Polymer Valley.

Three months after the purchase, her home's value increased.

Everyone bailing on DC was heading to Raleigh. That's a classic migration pattern. People relocate with a herd mentality. Either you move not too far from your current residence or you go where everyone else is going. That's not exactly a rational choice and it should put the "vote with your feet" meme in proper perspective. Akron doesn't need Joe Cortright to tell it how to attract talent. Cortright should be figuring out how Portland can be more like Akron.

Can Portland be the next Akron? Keep Akron weird:

Vehorn had lived in Northern Virginia. He'd spent the '90s in Seattle. He and a friend considered moving to Pittsburgh. But Akron was cheaper than the Pacific Northwest and NoVa, and cooler than the Burgh. So Vehorn became an Akronite and small-business owner. He's a partner in Tangerine Sound Studios with Pat Carney, the drummer in the Black Keys, Akron's respected ambassadors to the international rock 'n' roll community.

Portland is already too expensive.


Daria Brashear said...

Of course, quoting from an article that includes a mention of the Black Keys invites a pointer to this:

Jim Russell said...


Nice find. That deserves a follow-up. Maybe Nashville is the next Akron?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the mention! Pittsburgh made my sister's short list. Even though she didn't choose your city, she still considers it a fine relocation option for others.

Anonymous said...

Akron cooler than the burgh? What is that guy smoking?! Akron = Cranberry

Steve said...

Except for the part about Akron being cooler than Pittsburgh, I have been thinking the exact same things. I live in the Northern VA area of DC and it has a lot of positives but it also has a lot of negatives. Everything here is expensive. The transportation system is problematic except during the summer when there's 10% less population because of people taking vacations. I could give you a long list. For the longer term I want a place that's more liveable and the rust belt seems to be it. For my work that means Pittsburgh, and sometime in the future I hope to move there.