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Building a Vibrant Town | Becoming the Best Remote Working City

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

You can move Stillwater, Oklahoma towards being the number one place in the United States to work remotely.

Quint Studer is a revitalization expert and author of a book, Building A Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America. He's helped Pensacola, Florida move over the last decade and a half towards one of the most vibrant communities in America, and it's now an awarded Strong Town. He says that vibrant communities don't just happen–they're built-in smart, organic ways.

How can we become the number one city for working remotely? Before COVID, a relatively small portion of the population was working remotely–only about three percent. Even that had shown wild growth growing at over 44 over the last five years. According to studies by Gallup, at the beginning of the pandemic–in April and May–51 percent of US employees were working remotely. Now that's dropped to around 33 percent but the workers want to work remotely. Of those who worked remotely, 35 percent want to continue working remotely.

So, what does that mean for us? It means that we are looking at a different future than we were looking at this time last year. We're not asking how we can get Amazon to build a distribution center here and hire a thousand people. We're asking how we can build a community where 20 000 people want to come here and work remotely.

There are some key elements to building a community that's great for remote working. First and foremost, top of every list if you go look at the experts, is the availability of fast reliable internet. We've got to have excellent wi-fi and excellent internet availability. We're lucky to have a couple of good providers here. The second is the cost of living. We've got to have an affordable cost of living. It's great to have access to great internet, but if your mortgage payment is 75 percent of your income–no thanks. Finally, We've got to have access to places to work. That could be great new homes designed for the professional working at home–not just the typical home office but a home office that's inviting and welcomes you to be productive. It could also be a co-working space where you've got the community and you've got the support you need to be an effective remote worker in that setting. There are many elements but these are the key ones: the internet, cost of living, and space to work.

Stillwater oklahoma is the perfect location. We've got fast reliable internet. We have a little competition from providers and we've got a great provider even to our rural folks with here in town; and we've got access to 5G (at least that's what it says on my phone-i haven't run any tests) but we've got access to great internet. We've got a university that provides great infrastructure. We've got the bones in place; I think we can push them a little farther but we've got a great start.

Cost of living is great. If you take someone who's living right now on an L.A. salary or a New York salary and put them here, what got you a studio apartment will set you apart here. So, cost of living is great. Our housing availability is growing and we've got developers working on living space downtown and all around town.

We have a great co-working space right downtown. That has been a great story to watch. Kristin Hadley started that a couple years ago now and has since purchased the building and is growing that business. It's great to see some co-working space right in downtown Stillwater. We also have a virtual office location. We can do more to expand those as we increase this population of remote workers. We can also shift our mindset in building new homes. How do we build for the future worker? Build inviting spaces in our homes that invite productive work.

So, Stillwater is a great place and we've got room to grow.

You can help push Stillwater towards being the number one place to work remotely, but how? I want you to do three things, tell people about Stillwater, invest in workspace, and demand access to fast reliable internet.

First, I want you to call five people you know that work in California, New York, Austin, or Chicago and tell them about the great attributes of Stillwater. Tell them we've got fast internet, we've got affordable housing, we've got space to work, and we've got access to a major airline right here in town. That's the short term. Second and third are a little longer term.

Second, invest in workspace. That might be opening a new co-working center or as you're building new homes or renovating old homes think about the remote worker first. Put in office space that's inviting; put in a home workspace that's going to be productive.

Third, demand better internet and invest in real estate. This never ends. We've got to have fast reliable internet that's on the cutting edge constantly if we're going to attract the best remote workers to make this the number one place to work remotely in America. Now is a golden opportunity. Decades ago to attract businesses, to attract work, you needed large industrial space or Class A office space and high-rises. Right now if you have a phone and an internet connection you can do nearly any business on earth. So, we need constant consistent reliable access to the best internet.

Finally invest in real estate. Band together with your friends, get with folks who are able, and buy underused properties. We've got to get our underused properties into the hands of entrepreneurs who are going to make this a great place for remote workers. We need co-working space, we need restaurants, we need a litany of things, but it's got to start with the owners of the real estate. If folks don't want to do anything with their properties we've got to band together, pay more than they're worth, and get them into entrepreneurs' hands who will do great things.

There's a quote from Chuck Marohn that has stuck with me recently, "Entrepreneurs are crazy people who don't know they can fail." We need these types of people to have access to space so that they can fail, so that they can experiment, they can try new things, and make this place the best place.

Remember, vibrant communities don't just happen, they're built. Let's get building.

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