Johnstown has seen already the impact that even one young professional with a remote job can make on the community.
Eric Reighard, 34, moved to Johnstown in January 2019. He and his wife, Amanda, a cyber school teacher, both work remotely. But Reighard is also reopening the State Theatre downtown – a $30 million project – and he’s courting investors.
“To investors and groups coming in, I say, ‘Tell me another place in the country, where you can fly into Pittsburgh, or drive in from Baltimore, D.C., or New York,” Reighard said, “stay at a hotel by the theater, hear the symphony orchestra, dine at a five-star restaurant – and the next morning go coal tubing on class III rapids?”
Economic revitalization for Johnstown may come through attracting individuals with remote jobs, several local stakeholders said.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Topeka, Kansas, are among major cities – along with the state of Vermont – that in recent years have offered incentives, including grants for professionals with remote jobs to relocate.
An increase in appreciation for remote work as well as the desire for some to leave densely populated cities since the rise of COVID-19 in March have made the time ripe for Johnstown, local leaders said.
Among those interested in putting together a campaign to attract remote workers is Mike Kane, president of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, which supports many local economic development projects.
“I think for our community, there is opportunity, but it is in its early stages,” Kane said.
“We are looking at the best way to put a plan together.”
The Cambria Regional Chamber and Johnstown Area Regional Industries also are targeting remote workers.
“In an organic way, we are already seeing it happen,” Kane said. “We are seeing some people move to the community. That reinforces the notion to put an organized push together.”
‘Weren’t getting ahead’
Reighard, who grew up in Geistown, didn’t always see Johnstown as a place to live or work.
After graduating from Richland High School in 2005, he attended college out of the area.
“People, even school counselors and advisers were down about the area,” he said. “They said, ‘If you want to be successful and do anything of importance, you have to move out.’ ”
He and Amanda moved to Baltimore, but they soon found out they would be paying top dollar for a smaller house and more expensive child care.
“We moved for high-paying jobs and, quote, ‘more things to do,’ ” he said.
“We sold a $135,000 in Ferndale, a nice big house, and moved into a smaller townhouse in Baltimore that was triple the price. We weren’t getting ahead that much. And as for recreation, just going to the museum on a weekend costs a couple hundred bucks, including parking, food.”
Johnstown’s low cost of living is one of its strengths recognized by locals as well as outsiders.
Johnstown was No. 1 on the list of “best small metros for millennial homebuyers” in 2020, by Researchers for Construction Coverage, a company that provides data and financial products for the construction industry.
Behind Johnstown on that list of 15 best small metros was St. Joseph, Missouri; Gadsden, Alabama; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; and other cities nationwide.
The researchers analyzed data from Zillow and the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey to create a composite score based on home affordability (median millennial earnings as a share of home prices), unemployment among millennials, projected home value growth and cost of living.
With remote jobs on the rise, relocating is easier for many.
There were 1,600 new and 100% remote, or partially remote, jobs posted on Flexjobs.com in the six-day span from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1, the website showed.
Flexjobs.com is a website specializing in remote, work from home and flexible job opportunities.
The 100% full-time remote jobs posted include special education teacher, retail finance manager and enterprise account executive.
A related article from MoneyTalksNews.com lists 13 high-paying jobs that can be done from home. They include computer programmer, consultant – in industries including insurance, medicine and financial services – E-commerce business and IT support.
Space to ‘spread out’
Reighard said he was able to move back to Johnstown after learning about the potential to work remotely for Problem Solutions, a company founded by Mike Hruska, based in Richland Township.
Hruska’s company assists Fortune 500 companies as well as governmental agencies with technology to solve problems related to people and performance.
Hruska and his employees work from home, and he said he has plans to downsize his office in Richland.
“I think there is an interesting opportunity here,” Hruska said. “Knowing our economy and what the world is now, it’s very interesting. A lot of my contacts are moving out of cities ... They want to be somewhere spread out. There are more people with geographic mobility with good paying jobs than ever before.”
Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce President Amy Bradley said Johnstown is positioned well to be a home for remote workers.
“I think we are poised to be a perfect place for people to work remotely,” Bradley said.
“At the same time, you are able to work from home, we are also seeing people want to move to rural areas with lower cost of living.”