Two young tech workers share why they relocated to Arkansas from Texas and California – DAVID RAUDALES

DAVID RAUDALES

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Two young tech workers share why they relocated to Arkansas from Texas and California

Falldine and his wife left Austin, Texas, for Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Nicholas Falldine

The population of Northwest Arkansas has grown 5.4% from April 2020 to July 2022.People are moving to the area seeking a “better way of life,” one real-estate agent said.Two relocaters told Insider what drew them, from home prices to having a voice in a growing town.

In 2016, Nicholas Falldine wanted to see snow on Christmas Day.

As a native Texan, it wasn’t that easy to come by. A friend suggested that Falldine and his wife drive up to Northwest Arkansas from Dallas.

They stayed in Bentonville, Arkansas, for three days and stopped in Fayetteville — about 330 miles from Dallas — for coffee on the way back. Falldine was charmed by the town, home to the University of Arkansas, and its hilly landscape.

Northwest Arkansas, which consists of Benton, Madison, and Washington counties, has become the country’s 100th-largest metro area.

NWA Council

Fast forward to 2022: Falldine and his wife wanted a change from Austin, where they lived for only one year. When looking for a new city to call home, they were both reminded of that little Arkansas city where they stopped for coffee.

“We pretty much immediately thought of Fayetteville,” Falldine, 35, told Insider. “We thought, ‘Remember that town we grabbed a cup of coffee in and thought was really cool?'”

Northwest Arkansas — with a metro area consisting of Benton, Madison, and Washington counties — has become the country’s 100th-largest metro area with the latest crop of movers. From April 2020 to July 2022, its population increased 5.4% to 576,403, according to the latest US Census Bureau data.

That’s about half the population of Austin, and about a seventh of the population of Silicon Valley, and yet the grouping of counties is beginning to catch on among STEM workers who are looking for a different quality of life, like Falldine.

Northwest Arkansas’ plan to bring in new talent

Companies like Walmart, Tyson Foods, and JB Hunt are headquartered in Northwest Arkansas and have been attracting movers for years. But the latest crop of movers are setting their roots for other reasons.

“Before they were all coming in because they were corporate,” John Mayer, a real-estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Journey in Bentonville, told Insider. “But now Northwest Arkansas has become a destination for a better way of life. We’re seeing people relocate because of the cost, the median price of housing, the low property taxes, and then all the great amenities we have for the outdoors.”

In order to attract some of those movers, the Northwest Arkansas Council, a nonprofit economic development agency, rolled out an incentive to attract new residents in November 2020. The nonprofit offered $10,000 — and a mountain bike — to remote tech workers who moved to the region. One hundred people used the program, which ended in June 2022.

The Northwest Arkansas Council tried luring remote tech talent with $10,000 and a mountain bike.

NWA Council

Nelson Peacock, the president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, told Insider that their plan was to attract “STEAM” workers — an acronym for those in the science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics fields.

“We had a shortage of tech talent that we needed to address,” Peacock said. “We knew that was the future, and we just knew that a lot of people across the country didn’t have a good awareness about what it was like to work and to live here.”

A millennial founder wanted more IRL networking opportunities

Chris Thompson moved to Los Angeles from the Philadelphia area at 24 and started working in the fintech startup industry.

He thought that Los Angeles’ fast-paced reputation would lead to more networking, but instead he took most of his meetings in front of a computer.

Thompson moved from Los Angeles to Bentonville, Arkansas, for more in-person connections.

Chris Thompson

“In Los Angeles, all my meetings were over Zoom, even if they lived in Los Angeles, because no one wants to get on the 405,” Thompson told Insider. “All of the relationships that I had in Los Angeles, most of them were not in-person relationships.”

While working for a fintech startup, he noticed that around half of his team worked in Northwest Arkansas. He left the company and founded his own app in 2019, but stayed in contact with his former coworkers. With a built-in network of colleagues already in place, he joined them in Arkansas in June 2022.

Just before moving to Arkansas, Thompson founded Sober Sidekick, a healthcare app that helps users struggling with recovery, and prefers the relationships that he’s forged in person.

“I can build relationships here a lot faster than I could in Los Angeles,” he said.

Walton’s, the precursor of Walmart, started in Bentonville.

Keith Myers/Kansas City Star/Getty Images

Thompson, now 29, took advantage of the $10,000 incentive program, which he said helped jumpstart his venture into homeownership.

He purchased a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom house in Bentonville, Arkansas, about two hours east of Tulsa, Oklahoma. His mortgage is $2,200 a month — $300 cheaper than his previous rent for an 800-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Marina Del Rey, he said.

“The sooner you can get into owning, the better off you’re going to be in the long run,” he said. “That was a huge selling point for me. It’s rent in Los Angeles for another five years, or start the process of building equity now.”

The median listing price in Bentonville is $550,000, compared to Los Angeles’ $1.2 million, according to realtor.com.

A Texan looking for breathing room found some in Fayetteville

Falldine only lived in Austin for about a year, but wasn’t feeling the “vibe.”

The long car rides and general sense of overcrowding — both people and business establishments — led him and his family to Fayetteville.

“We wanted to be close to family, and were looking for a lot of the same characteristics Austin has: aesthetically pleasing, quirky, creative, and unique,” Falldine said.

Another perk for Falldine: spontaneity in Fayetteville is more achievable. If it’s a hot day, you can get in the car and go swimming near a waterfall with no hassle. In Austin, he said that the same experience would need to be booked weeks in advance because there were so many people.

Austin’s population of 974,447 far outnumbers Fayetteville’s 99,285, according to 2022 estimates from the US Census Bureau, and that makes a big difference for Falldine.

One of the many murals in Northwest Arkansas.

NWA Council

Falldine likes the idea that Fayetteville is on its way up. When researching where to move, he was impressed by Fayetteville’s 2040 plan, which plots out the city’s goals like limiting sprawl and encouraging public transportation usage, and wanted to be a part of a growing community instead of being a number like he said he would be in Austin or Dallas.

“I’d much rather be a part of something earlier on and be a part of that startup mentality,” he said. “To be a part of decision-making and actually getting to know people that are maybe making those decisions and having an impact on how things could potentially go is super appealing.”

Do you work in tech and recently move to Northwest Arkansas? Tell us some of your reasons for moving. Email reporter Jordan Pandy at [email protected] to share your story.

Read the original article on Business Insider