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Springfield, Joplin top list of U.S. cities for remote work

Broadband speed and low cost of living also cited as draws in WSJ article

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It’s official: Springfield is No. 1.

Area residents knew the Queen City was top when it came to things like inventing cashew chicken and being the birthplace of Route 66. But on Feb. 13, The Wall Street Journal reported Springfield was the top city in the nation for something new: the best place to live while working remotely.

The city topped WSJ’s top-10 list, which was ranked by factors including cost of living, broadband cost and availability, home prices and nearness of parks.

Vicki Pratt, senior vice president of economic development for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, has read WSJ for years, and she said the call by a reporter for an interview for the feature was unexpected.

“I was a little surprised when he said Springfield is the No. 1 city,” she said. “I had to say, ‘Based on what? Tell me what criteria you’re looking at here.’ It’s always important to know what the data is behind the headline.”

Titled “For Remote Workers, These U.S. Cities Are Great Places to Live,” the article by reporters Ray A. Smith, Tom Corrigan and Jason French includes a chart that details the criteria for placement on the list, and the Queen City earned strong scores in all categories. Criteria were generated through a WSJ/Ipsos survey of 1,050 people who ranked the top-10 traits desired by remote workers.

One of the most important factors cited by remote workers is broadband speed. Springfield is completing a fiber network expansion throughout the city. WSJ reports 100% of homes in the city have access to broadband speeds of 100 megabits per second, and for this, WSJ writes, they pay an average monthly price of $32.80. WSJ figures are derived from the broadband advocacy website

Cities were also rated for their low cost of living, with Springfield in the 94th percentile; proximity to an airport, 64th percentile; and arts venues per household, 65th percentile. Access to the outdoors mattered, too, with 68.8% of households within half a mile of a park.

“When you start unpacking it and you start looking at all of those factors together, you can see very quickly how Springfield would rise to the top,” Pratt said.

In the WSJ article, Pratt notes the cost of living in the Springfield area is 12.6% below the national average. Housing costs are 25.5% lower, and utility costs are 13.8% lower.

Pratt told SBJ it’s impossible to know how many remote workers Springfield has.

“One of the things we don’t know and that nobody knows, by the way, is the number of remote workers that live in our region. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t know that either,” she said.

Pratt said remote workers likely come to Springfield for some other tie to the area, rather than the advantages listed in the article.

She added that being attractive to remote workers is a double-edged sword.

“At the end of the day, that doesn’t solve the problem for existing employers, who are trying to attract workers,” she said. “Many of the people who are living here and working remotely are being offered a wage that a lot of our local companies say they can’t compete with.”

Likewise, remote workers in Springfield more than likely earn scaled-back wages.

“Their employers know they don’t have to cover cost of living expenses they had to cover in Westchester County or Orange County,” she said.

Beyond the numbers
Justin Cimino is director of program management to the chief technology officer for AuthenticID Inc., a Kirkland, Washington-based information technology services and consulting firm in the field of identity verification.

Cimino has lived in Springfield for a dozen years and worked remote since 2015, first with BriteCore, which started in Springfield and is now based in San Francisco, and then with San Francisco-based Socotra.

Cimino said remote work has benefits.

“That includes quite a bit of control over my schedule,” he said. “On a particularly stressful day, I get to get out and go for a nice walk.”

Cimino said Springfield is a great place to work from.

“The cost of living is fantastic,” he said, noting if he worked on the ground for tech companies, he would likely be living in a costlier city, like Seattle, San Francisco or New York.

Cimino noted Springfield also offers an appealing small-town feel. He cited the draw of the Springfield Cardinals and the Juanita K. Hammons Hall for Performing Arts, where he planned to see a national touring company’s performance of “Hamilton” that very night.

Cimino said Springfield should build on the momentum of making the WSJ list. It should continue to invest in its internet infrastructure and also invest in organizations that support IT and tech work, like the Springfield Tech Council.

“They need to continue investing to keep the best talent around in this area,” he said. “It helps the economy, too – drawing coastal salaries into this area will help it grow.”

Quality of life
Kate Murr is a senior copy writer for data analytics company Search Discovery, which is based in Atlanta – and the Springfield-Branson National Airport has direct flights there. That’s an upside for her work demands.

“I do love the airport. I can get anywhere that I want to go,” she said.

The cultural components of the WSJ list also appeal to Murr.

“There’s a thriving creative community,” she said. “I love the downtown; I love the live music. I think Springfield is a great place to be because of the people here.”

Murr grew up in Anderson, in the southwest corner of Missouri, and she came to Springfield for an undergraduate degree at Drury University and one of her two master’s degrees in writing at Missouri State University. She is the mother of two, and she lives a block away from her children’s father, making both parents readily accessible to them.

“It’s a great place to raise children,” she said.

Her kids are active mountain bikers, and the family takes advantage of access to first-rate trails. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they even had a hand in building their own, she said – the Lone Pine Bike Park.

“They definitely used their community roots and resources,” she said.

Community matters to Murr, but she noted she is also part of a vibrant work community, even as a remote worker.

“They hire people based on how willing they are to live out the company’s values – things like craftsmanship, pioneering, wellness,” she said. “We do weekly community events online, like Whiskey Wednesday, when we Zoom in and have happy hour together.”

What Murr likes best about remote work is enjoying every moment she spends not commuting.

“I feel like it’s a better quality of life,” she said. “Instead of commuting, I go for a walk during that time, or I exercise or play fetch with my dog.”

Joplin also ranks
Take Interstate 44 west 71 miles to experience the nation’s second-best city for remote work, by WSJ metrics: Joplin, a city founded on lead and zinc mining.

Doug Hunt, director of entrepreneurship for the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said his organization has been looking for ways to foster its remote working community for a long time. Before the WSJ article came out, the chamber had lined up a remote workers meet-and-greet event for Feb. 28, and Hunt said it has generated a lot of interest.

“Even if the article hadn’t come out, we would still be doing what we’re doing,” he said.

He said the article is a boon for the region.

“You can’t buy that type of publicity. It’s fantastic for southwest Missouri,” he said.

Hunt said when people come to the region to visit, many decide to stay permanently or move back to retire.

“It’s the quality of life and the can-do spirit,” he said.

Joplin also offers assistance for workers so they don’t have to go it alone. Like Springfield’s Efactory, Joplin has The Joseph Newman Innovation Center with workspace options available, ranging from hot desks – that is, desks anyone can claim for the time they reserve –  to private offices.

“A remote worker is not just someone in a particular demographic or a particular situation,” Hunt said. “There really is a mosaic of different people with different things going on.”

When asked if the rankings inspire a rivalry between “JoMo” and the Queen City, Hunt said no.

“In my mind, not at all. There is no rivalry,” he said. “This WSJ research and article is a huge win for both Springfield and Joplin to be celebrated as a region.”


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