Welcome to the Zoomtown

The Russ family enjoys downtown Apex and its small-town atmosphere. From left, they are, Madeleine, Aidan, Doug, Leslie and Austin Russ.

In the early days of the pandemic, remote work was a temporary solution for many office workers. Now a permanent option for many, that shift has come with unexpected benefits — including the freedom to live anywhere.

Newly remote workers are flocking to places known for a great quality of life, places like western Wake County.

Cary real estate agent Colleen Blondell estimates that 65 to 70 percent of her clients are moving here from out of state. She has always had IT professionals relocating from the West Coast because of North Carolina’s relative affordability. The real change, she says, has been in other types of professions and the greater number of companies now allowing remote work.

“There have been people in the past that have been able to work remotely and move here, but I think it definitely is on the increase,” Blondell said.

Why people want to move to the Triangle depends on the client, she says. It could be good schools, jobs at one of the Triangle’s big employers or amenities for retirees. She also hears a lot of comments about the landscape.

“The lush trees, I mean it’s just so beautiful when you’re flying in,” Blondell said. “It’s just seeing all the beautiful trees that you don’t see in other parts of the country, or if they’re moving from the desert or California.”

It’s also location, location, location. “I think it’s what we have to offer within a couple hours,” she said. “We can get to the beaches; we can get to the mountains within a few hours.”

Bassam Safi, the Apex-based owner of the regional Our Town America franchise, calls the number of new residents “staggering,” adding that he sees more than 2,500 people moving to western Wake County every month. For his direct mail marketing business, Safi monitors the number of new residents so welcome packages can be sent to them.

“North Carolina has been a very desirable place to live for many factors, as we all know,” he said. “The ability to work from home has added so much more flexibility.”

Lynn & Justin Bomberowitz

Lynn Bomberowitz says her employer’s flexibility was a big factor in her family’s recent move from Boston to the Triangle.

Bomberowitz does talent marketing for Liberty Mutual, mainly recruiting candidates. Her husband, Justin, does e-commerce marketing for a company in Vancouver, a job he took so he could work remotely. The couple has two children, Sam, 2, and Annie, who was born in April.

Boston to Cary

Moved in July 2021
Both work from home.

“I feel like the way we think about our homes has drastically changed. It’s really where now you work, you live, you play, you work out,” she said. “We really wanted, especially with two kids, enough space to not feel like we were on top of each other.”

In Boston, they had considered working from home, but it was more in the context of what they would do if they bought a bigger house on the outskirts of the city. Maybe they would work remotely one or two days a week.

Then the pandemic happened.

“We had a bunch of friends move out of the city and either up to Maine or Vermont or an hour south. We just kind of lost that network of friends,” Bomberowitz said. “We were working from home, and Cary just seemed all of a sudden much more appealing.”

They went from a “cramped and claustrophobic” 1000-sqare-foot space in Boston to a home with just over 5,000 square feet in Cary. They now have a house with a yard, and Bomberowitz appreciates that they now live close to her parents.

“It just feels like a breath of fresh air. That’s like the best way that I can encompass all the little things that make it feel like the right decision for us,” she said.

“It just makes me feel good about what is to come for my family. But it’s really nice to be near my parents too, which is a huge part of that feeling.”

Leslie & Doug Russ

All aboard the Apex Union Depot caboose are Doug and Leslie Russ with their 14-year-old triplets: Madeleine, Aidan and Austin. Working remotely allowed the family to be close to relatives in the Triangle.

Leslie Russ and her husband Doug grew up in Raleigh, and recently moved back to the Triangle, so they could also be closer to family as well.

The couple moved to Spring Hill, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville, eight years ago for her job. She works for a company that provides healthcare computer systems to hospitals, so nearly everything she does is on the computer. It was an easy transition to work from home.

Nashville to Apex

Moved September 2021
Both work from home.

“At one point, when everything started, it’s like, ‘No, this is not gonna be too long,’ and then suddenly, it was a year later,” Russ said. “I was working from home, and I’m like, ‘Why are we still here? Why are we still in Nashville?’”

During that year of remote work, as Russ wrestled with her questions, her employer was also questioning the status quo.

“Even though they were starting to bring people back to the office, the culture had really shifted, and they weren’t even bringing people back full time,” she said.

“I felt better about saying, ‘Hey, we’re gonna move back to North Carolina now.’ North Carolina just really has our heart.”

Doug Russ is a financial planner and, for now, is working remotely for his Nashville company. His wife admits that he will eventually have to find a job in North Carolina, but remote work gives them the flexibility to make that change on their own timeline.

Another remnant of their time in Tennessee is an appreciation for community and small-town living. The couple discovered that same environment in Apex. After renting for several months, they found a home with four bedrooms, an office and a bonus room. It had plenty of room for the couple and their 14-year-old triplets, Madeleine, Aidan and Austin.

“The locally owned businesses and locally owned restaurants are so prominent here. I was so pleasantly surprised by that, especially here in Apex, there’s just such a focus on local,” Russ said.

“It just speaks to that community feel that we have found since we’ve been here.”

Blythe & Zach Logan

Blythe and Zach Logan aren’t textbook remote workers, because they moved to the Triangle because of his job. He now works as a field service engineer for a laboratory services company, working with healthcare clients. But if she hadn’t been able to work remotely, they wouldn’t have even considered the move.

“I was able to basically not even have to change my job, because I can work from wherever,” said Blythe Logan. “If I would have had to change jobs as well, I doubt we would have moved.”

Indianapolis to Cary

Moved in June 2021
She works remotely.

She is the director of business development for a contract research company, based in Indianapolis, which serves the pharmaceutical industry. Blythe Logan traveled to see clients, but the office was her base of operations.

“I always came back to my office,” she said. “I had the option, if I wanted to work from home as needed. I’ll be honest, I felt like I got more done in the office.”

When the pandemic sent everyone home, she had to adjust. Her territory was in the Northeast, in the Boston area, so her Indianapolis office was already remote.

“Normally I’ll travel to see my clients, and they’re mainly pharmaceutical companies or biotech companies. But with COVID, those have all been closed. I have actually not been able to start traveling again, but I do all my client interactions remotely via Zoom,” she said.

The couple and their three daughters — 15-year-old twins Taylor and Lauren, and Madison, 11 — were able to find a five-bedroom house in Cary. There is also a second-floor loft, which Blythe Logan claimed.

“The loft is essentially my office, since I’m the one that’s home,” she said. “There are some times when, if Zach is not on calls, then he’s working remotely here as well. We have to divvy up the loft space, but we have a couple of desks up there.”

The Cary location actually made her job a bit easier, because she is now in the same time zone as her East Coast clients. There was another unexpected benefit.

“It’s actually opened up more opportunities, because there’s so much biotech here in the Raleigh-Durham area.

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