Why Tech Workers Are Ditching Big Cities for Boise

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The past year has brought a reckoning in the tech job industry across the US, upending career trajectories for recent grads. When they chose majors like computer science four years ago, they expected to follow those before them into a lucrative market with perks at Big Tech companies like Meta, Amazon, and others. But instead they’ve been met with hiring freezes and massive layoffs across the industry that have forced pivots. Those changes are bleeding into 2024. Twitch, Discord, Duolingo, Amazon, and Google all announced cuts last week. Some hopeful tech workers have spent countless hours applying to gigs without luck, and others are looking more to the government for tech work, seeking purposeful work and reliability.

There’s so much opportunity in Boise because the area’s nascent talent pool hasn’t caught up to meet the tech industry’s demands, says Nick Crabbs, partner and chief community officer at software company Vynyl and a native of Boise’s tech scene who previously helped lead Boise Startup Week. That has led to the in-migration, but the city’s unusually friendly nature and smaller industry also helps boost young careers, Crabbs says. “If you come to Boise, you can very quickly kind of accelerate yourself into career-advancing moves.”

In the wake of some 400,000 tech layoffs between 2022 and 2023, young people are looking for new types of work. More than 40 percent of job applications submitted by tech majors on Handshake went to internet and software companies in 2021, but that number fell to 25 percent by September 2023. In the same time, applications to government jobs doubled. Handshake also found that women in tech-related majors are more likely than men to submit applications to roles in finance, management, consulting, government, education, health care, and research companies, while men are more likely to apply to internet and software companies.

Some of the Boise boom will continue to be driven by Micron, which employs around 5,400 people in Boise. Its expansion is expected to create 17,000 jobs, with 2,000 of those directly at Micron, by 2030, says Scott Gatzemeier, the company’s corporate vice president of frontend US expansion. The company gave full-time jobs to nearly 200 of its interns last year, and plans to have some 370 more interns work at the company this year.

But there’s a startup and entrepreneurial culture driving growth, too. Boise today feels like Nashville or Austin two or three decades ago, says Clark Krause, executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, a regional business organization. A Boise chef won a James Beard award in 2023, the city has an annual music festival with dozens of artists, and there’s nearby skiing and hiking. A one-bedroom apartment rents for an average of $1,300 a month. “You can afford to have the lifestyle you dreamed about really easily here,” Krause says.

But as the tech industry simmers, the city is feeling the strain. “We’ve had all the benefits of growth, but also all the challenges of growth,” Krause says. Housing prices in Boise have jumped by more than 50 percent since 2019. The city is investing $340 million to make its downtown more walkable, and also announced plans to redevelop hundreds of affordable housing units last year. But it will need to build around 2,700 new housing units each year to keep up with demand, a 2021 analysis from the city found. Construction in Boise fell some 4,000 units behind that goal over a three-year period preceding the report.

Labor experts say the dust from tech layoffs is starting to settle. But Gen Z is focused on stability, says Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake. “When you’re thinking about stability, and then you see headlines about layoffs, that doesn’t read stability,” she says. The move to more affordable, non-coastal cities in the US is appealing for a generation that has watched millennials struggle under student loan debt and rising housing costs. “As long as housing continues to skyrocket in some of the major cities, some of these secondary cities that are a little bit smaller, a little bit more manageable, will continue to see a bit of an increase in the number of young professionals that are willing to go there.”

WIRED has teamed up with Jobbio to create WIRED Hired, a dedicated career marketplace for WIRED readers. Companies who want to advertise their jobs can visit WIRED Hired to post open roles, while anyone can search and apply for thousands of career opportunities. Jobbio is not involved with this story or any editorial content.

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