For a while now, we’ve been watching with interest as startups move out of California to other locations, including Birmingham. Then when COVID hit, that process seemed to accelerate as newly remote workers realized they could leave high-rent locales like New York City and work anywhere. We reached out to three people who live in Birmingham and work for organizations based in California or New York. Here’s what we learned.
Meet our 3 interviewees who all work remotely from Birmingham
Taylor Kelley moved to Birmingham to dance with the Alabama Ballet. Then, when COVID hit, she got a job with a marketing agency in New York City.
Stephanie May moved to Alabama from Australia when her then-husband got a job at UAB. After their divorce, she stayed so both parents would be in her daughter’s life, and got a job in research administration at a university in California.
Our third interviewee, who prefers to remain anonymous, first moved to Alabama with family, then came back because of his girlfriend and because he was disillusioned with life in California. He still teaches remotely at a community college in California.
Taylor Kelley: from the Alabama Ballet to working remotely in marketing in NYC
Bham Now: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kelley: My name is Taylor Kelley and I have been living in Birmingham for 3 1/2 years now. I moved here to dance with Alabama Ballet, but when the pandemic hit, I decided to hang up my shoes and apply for a marketing job.
I had experience working as the marketing coordinator at Dread River, but I really wanted to join an agency so that I could gain experience working with several different brands and accounts. I found an opportunity to do so with Basic Creative.
I was hired as a Media Buyer with Basic Creative at the end of September, and I absolutely love working for this agency! We specialize in social media marketing, but we help our clients with other aspects of their marketing efforts as well.
It is a small agency, but we are growing quickly. I also recently found out that I am being promoted to Senior Media Buyer in March, so I’ve learned that even though the company is small and we are all remote, there is still a lot of opportunity for growth and development.
Bham Now: What made you decide to apply for a job with an agency in NYC?
Kelley: I had always wanted to work with a marketing or advertising agency, so I began applying to jobs in both Birmingham and other cities.
Although the job market was very competitive when I was looking in August, it was nice to be able to expand my search past Birmingham with so many companies accommodating working remotely.
Bham Now: How were they with the idea of you working remotely from Birmingham?
Kelley: Basic Creative was actually working remotely before the pandemic hit. The company is based out of New York, but we have clients and employees located all over North America, so they were primarily working off of zoom calls already.
Bham Now: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of this type of work arrangement?
Kelley: A huge advantage to my company is that we are very connected. We are on Zoom calls from anywhere between 3-6 hours per day with each other and with our clients, so even though we are working remotely we thankfully get a lot of face time with others.
I am a very social person, so I do miss in-person conversations. But I feel like I am still able to build relationships with co-workers and clients, and in a way, I’m able to open up and be myself even more because I am in the comfort of my own home.
A disadvantage of working from home is struggling to step away from work at night. With constant access to emails and Slack, it is hard to not feel like you need to be available 24/7.
My company does a great job making sure we are not pressured to stay connected all the time and also encouraging us all to find a healthy work/life balance.
Bham Now: What made you decide to stay in Birmingham vs. moving to NYC?
Kelley: I am not from Birmingham, but I love living here. So, when I got a job that allowed me to work remotely, it made sense for me to stay!
I also teach at MPower and at Encore Performance Company, so I am thankful that I am able to keep teaching and being a part of those communities that have had such a positive impact on my experience here.
I love New York and plan on moving there for a year or so just for the experience, but I do plan on coming back to Birmingham because it feels like home now. I also love how much this city supports local business and that there are constantly new places and experiences to try here that are unique to Birmingham.
Stephanie May: from Australia to working remotely in research administration in California from Birmingham
Bham Now: What made you decide to move to Birmingham?
May: I moved to Alabama in August 2013 because my then-husband got a teaching job at UAB. While I’m from California, I was living in Australia prior to moving here. After my divorce, I decided to stay in Alabama so that my ex-husband and I could both continue to be in our daughter’s life full-time.
Bham Now: How did you end up getting a job in California?
May: I was looking to have a more flexible schedule and to be able to work from home. That was not an option with my employer at that time. The field I’m in is fairly niche (research administration), but I have a lot of experience. Since I’ve always worked for universities, I decided to contact ones out of state who had open positions and see if they would be open to a remote position.
Eventually, I found a university in California and started working remotely in 2017. I’ve changed jobs since then, but continue to work for a university in California.
Bham Now: were there other factors that made you decide to stay here in Birmingham, working remotely?
May: Part of the reason for staying is cost of living. My employer is located in the Bay Area in California and the cost of living is extremely high.
The main reason, though, is that my ex-husband works in a field where there are very few jobs available, not just in California, but across the country.
If he got a job in California, then I’d happily move back there. But as long as his job is here, I’m going to stay here so that our daughter doesn’t have to split her time between Alabama and California.
Bham Now: how is the arrangement working out for you?
May: I love my current employer; it’s hands-down the best job I’ve had. I wouldn’t rule out returning to an office at some point, but I plan on staying at this job and working remotely for the foreseeable future.
Anonymous: teaching remotely at a California community college first in Cali, then in Alabama
Our third interviewee preferred to remain anonymous. He originally moved here to be near family. When he met his girlfriend, he found a reason to come back and a place to stay during COVID.
In California, state-mandated stay at home orders felt like house arrest, and he wasn’t a fan of the wildfires that “get progressively worse every year.”
Bham Now: what made you decide to apply for a job in California?
Anonymous: It’s more like I brought my job with me to Alabama last April. I work as an adjunct instructor at a community college in California. A year later, the classes are still offered remotely, so I have no reason to go back.
Bham Now: what do you like about living in Birmingham?
Anonymous: Alabama is less oppressive. California is expensive. Where I used to live is quite beautiful, but rather crowded. To me, the stay at home orders are absurdist, and quite frankly the PC culture is becoming a little too intolerant, ironically. Did I mention the drought and fire hellscape and homeless crisis?
Long term, California is not a viable place to raise a family. Alabama is one of several options I’m considering.
If there’s one thing COVID brought that’s a blessing, it’s the broadening of opportunities for location-independent work, and therefore, a potential income and cost of living arbitrage. I really have no reason to go back to California except to visit my family and friends.