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What makes a tech hub livable?

As tech workers consider relocating from hubs like Silicon Valley and New York City, Northern Virginia is stepping up as a welcoming, livable alternative.

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Man and dog smiling on a canoe. Courtesy of Visit Fairfax

Record unemployment and stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic have generated talk of a "mass exodus" from America's big cities. Whether that's fact or speculation, it's certainly creating chatter: Has the rise of remote work given way to the Wild West of location decisions? Does "WFH" mean work from… anywhere?

This past spring, a survey of thousands of tech workers in the Bay Area found that two-thirds would consider leaving the region if they had the option of permanent remote work. The report found similar results for other tech industry hubs, like Seattle and New York: 63 percent and 69 percent of respondents, respectively, said they'd consider leaving those cities. As the pandemic causes people to rethink everything from their grocery budgets to the value of a backyard, there's a case to be made about tech hubs that offer similarly high-paying jobs but with a key differentiator: Livability.

It's important to reconsider what makes a tech industry hub livable, a place to thrive not only in your career, but also in your life. Perhaps the most livable tech hub simply isn't on your radar — yet. Case in point: Northern Virginia, or NOVA for short. Unexpected? Maybe. Unrealistic? Definitely not. In reality, 15,600 technology companies call this region home, and in Northern Virginia's Fairfax County, one out of every four jobs is tech-related. More broadly, the Washington, DC metropolitan area (which encompasses Northern Virginia) is the third-largest metro for technology employment in the country, and ranked number two in the nation for tech talent. So what's attracting tech companies and workers there? And why should you consider a move?

View of a public park in Fairfax County, with storefronts and people sitting on benches. Courtesy of Visit Fairfax

First, think about what you're looking for in your future community. Who will your neighbors and colleagues be? Diversity is key: In Northern Virginia, women are twice as likely, and Black residents are five times as likely to work in tech, as compared to Silicon Valley. The region is incredibly international, too, partly thanks to its proximity to the nation's capital, only minutes away across the Potomac River. In Fairfax County — NOVA's largest county, home to more residents than DC itself — nearly one in three residents was born outside of the US, making it one of the nation's most diverse communities.

Second, you want to live in a place where you can find four walls to call home, and a neighborhood that fits your lifestyle. Best-case scenario, it's somewhere with a variety of housing options and neighborhoods, so if you decide to stay a while, you can adapt to your changing needs. In NOVA, for instance, options range from urban to suburban to rural — all with direct access to both the bustle of DC and the natural beauty of Virginia — and from colonial-era single-family homes to shiny new apartment complexes with luxury amenities.

Family standing in front of a museum exhibit Courtesy of Visit Fairfax

Finally, if you have a family or are thinking about starting one, access to top-notch education is crucial. While parents across the country move mountains to get their kids into high-quality school systems, in NOVA, no matter where you live, you'll benefit from some of the best public education in the nation. Notably, Fairfax County Public Schools — the nation's 10th largest school system — consistently ranks among the top districts in the US and includes Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the number one public high school according to US News & World Report's ranking.

Once you've determined the place for you, making that lifestyle a reality hinges on the obvious: Finding a job. Luckily, Northern Virginia is hiring and ready to welcome you with open arms. How many tech hubs can say that?

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