RALEIGH – After spending most of his lifetime living in California, Bill Rollinson and his wife, Jill, finally took the plunge, relocating to the Triangle last August.
“I love California, but the harsh reality is that California has fallen into disrepair, has a high cost of living and unbearable traffic,” the 61-year-old entrepreneur told WRAL TechWire.
“Many of the recent policies enacted discourage business and innovation, stifle opportunity and make life in major cities ugly and unpleasant.”
With adult children already living in the Triangle, he says a move had been in the cards for some time. Then the pandemic struck, and the time felt right: “We [decided] to make the move since we were both able to continue our jobs by working remotely.”
He’s not alone.
As remote working becomes the norm in the wake of the pandemic, and people become disgruntled with the cost of living and high taxes in places like California, a growing list of techies are fleeing big metros.
Some are calling it the “Silicon Valley exodus.”
Topping many of their relocation lists: North Carolina.
Just ask Jason Caplain, a partner at Bull City Venture Partners.
A flood of talent
In over two decades working as a venture capitalist in the Triangle, he says he’s never seen such a flood of talent into the region.
“I’ve had more conversations over the last six months with Bay Area people moving, or moved, to Raleigh-Durham than my last 20 years as a VC,” he says. “The influx of talent is real. This is a moment for North Carolina.”
The region is luring a wide swath of talent, he adds.
“It’s heavy on software developers,” but spans the gamut, including serial entrepreneurs and “several C-level execs at high profile public companies.”
North Carolina ranked No. 9 among the top growth states in 2020, according to a recent U-Haul report tracking migration trends. California, meanwhile, ranked last “by a large margin.”
John Chambers warns …
Former Cisco chair and CEO John Chambers has warned that a continued exodus of entrepreneurs and companies from California could mean more growth for North Carolina and other states.
“Does this opportunity create opportunities for Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, my home state of West Virginia? Absolutely,” Chambers told CNBC in a recent interview. “You have to create the right environment for startups and we’ve learned that, with the pandemic, you can put your resources anywhere.”
Rollinson is a perfect case study. A product manager at a big tech company, he runs Surfitlocker, an outdoor sports equipment-share startup, on the side.
After closing two locations on the West Coast, he’s already looking to set up shop here.
“The underlying technology and software exists to restart in the Raleigh area,” he says.
Making an ‘impact’
Cody Hill is another recent transplant from Silicon Valley.
The 33-year-old worked at Facebook for almost three years before relocating to the Triangle last September. He was already familiar with the area, after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with an MBA in 2018.
Part of the Triangle’s appeal, he says, is the perception that it’s a newer tech hub and untapped.
“I gained incredible skills working at Facebook, but wanted to work at a smaller company where I could feel like I was having more of an impact,” he says.
“There’s more incremental growth able to happen in this area as opposed to the traditional power centers of San Francisco and New York City.”
He didn’t have trouble finding a job.
Within a month, he landed a role with the early-stage startup UpstateNC, a bill tracking and screening site for the North Carolina General Assembly.
Hill plans to be here for a while.
“The tech scene here is primed to explode,” he says. “Three incredible universities, a mass of young tech talent, startup hubs, and a desire to grow the Triangle into the country’s next big place for tech are all reasons I am excited to be [here].”
Thomas Whitaker and his fiance, Dana, who is originally from Durham, had wanted to relocate to the Bull City from San Francisco for “a while.”
“Oddly enough, the pandemic gave us time to think through the logistics,” said the 36-year-old, who has worked for startups in sales and marketing roles. “We decided it was a good time to go ahead and make the move while life slowed down a bit.”
Thinking through future life goals: buying a house, family growth – “Durham made a lot of sense for a re-location,” he says.
The couple arrived last June, and haven’t had any problems settling in: “We found a house that we’re renting close to downtown Durham and love the area overall.”
“It’s a little weird to move to a new place during a lockdown,” he adds, “but we’ve still been able to get to know the area a bit, get some good takeout, and settle in over the last eight months or so.”
He’s also tapped into the startup ecosystem.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to was very helpful with suggestions on where to focus the job hunt, who to talk to, and generally was quick to offer help and share ideas. Networking here didn’t feel transactional and was ego free.”
Cost of living
For Alexandra Tai, who is getting ready to relocate from Berkeley, it comes down to cost of living.
“Raleigh-Durham is very affordable,” says the California native.
“When I draw comparisons [with Berkeley],” she adds, “both have strong developer communities, great schools and universities, startups and companies, but I think at the end of the day, Raleigh-Durham has this particular pull. It’s fast growing as a tech hub and has all these things Silicon Valley has to offer, with companies and startups flocking to the area and schools and universities feeding talent into the ecosystem.”
She’s also looking to purchase a home and start a family “down the line” – all of which seem more feasible here.
The 27-year-old works in marketing and social media management. She says she has friends who’ve already relocated to the area, and have spoken “very highly” of the region.
Another big draw: the sense of community, she says.
“I haven’t had any in-person experiences, of course, but the community seems very warm over Zoom,” she says. “I worked at Momentum [coding school based in Durham] over the summer and I think from day one, I felt at home. And since then, I’ve been actively volunteering with a church based in Durham and participating in caring for college students through that particular community, and I do feel like even though I’m in limbo right now and not fully transitioning to NC just yet, NC is starting to become home to me already.”