Job seekers become reluctant to relocate

September 4th, 2018

By Janet Patterson for The Journal Gazette

Bob Shepherd wasn't really looking for a job. And he wasn't thinking about leaving sunny Southern California. But, in April, Shepherd, his wife, Lisa, and 6-year-old son, Jonah, moved to Fort Wayne after he accepted a position at Sweetwater Sound.

“I was not even thinking about changing jobs or relocating. Southern California is beautiful, but it's also very expensive,” the Chicago native said.

When the offer from Sweetwater came, and the couple considered the advantages of settling in northeast Indiana, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

The move puts Shepherd in a minority, according to a recent nationwide study that notes a marked decline in the number of workers relocating for jobs.

The study by global outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. is based on a survey of about 1,000 job seekers who successfully found jobs each quarter since the company began tracking numbers in 1986.

The Challenger study, released in August, shows that a little more than 10 percent of those seeking jobs relocated in the first six months of 2018, dropping from more than 30 percent in the late 1980s. Each decade since has seen relocation rates decline.

Despite the nationwide trend, northeast Indiana has not seen quite the same change.

Of the 1,550 employees at Fort Wayne's Sweetwater Sound, 45 percent are from someplace other than northeast Indiana, reports Jeff McDonald, the company's senior vice president for human resources. “Our employees are from 48 states and seven countries.”

Five years ago, 63 of Sweetwater's new employees came from outside northeast Indiana, said Heather Herron, Sweetwater's vice president of corporate communications. That number increased to 105 two years ago, and is projected to be 180 for 2018, she said. 

However, McDonald noted, the labor market has been tighter in the last year.

“More jobs are available, so people don't have to move for employment,” he said.

The Challenger study points out why some workers may be hesitant to move.

“There is a lot of risk involved in picking up your life and moving to another area. Especially now, in such a tight labor market where jobs are plentiful, job seekers don't have to leave the security of their homes to find new employment,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Advancements in technology have made it possible for workers to do their jobs from almost anywhere.

“Even workers who are offered relocation packages may forgo the hassle if they and their employers agree their jobs can be done remotely,” Challenger said in a news release.

Sweetwater's McDonald described the current employment situation as a “job candidates' market.”

Part of the reason is the number of baby boomers retiring. According to the Pew Research Center, beginning Jan. 1, 2011, 10,000 people have turned 65 every day. This will continue until 2030. That means there are millions of people eligible to leave the workforce. “And there are way, way fewer Gen Xers to take their places,” said McDonald.

Michael Galbraith of northeast Indiana's Road to One Million agreed jobs are plentiful and the labor force is not as abundant. Galbraith is director of the regional development agency that aims to bring 1 million residents to the 11 counties of this region.

“Our economy is doing well and there are more than enough jobs,” he said. These are factors that keep workers in all sectors of business in place.

Among the factors, he notes, is the increase in two-income households.

With 60 to 70 percent of couples both producing income, the decision to move is no longer “a one-person decision.” Couples ask themselves “is it worth having my spouse give up a good job, so I can move on?”

Rick Farrant, director of communication for Northeast Indiana Works, said the job market here is strong. “Young people are putting down roots where they are.”

In northeast Indiana, Farrant said, the combination of good schools, reasonable housing prices and opportunities for training in a variety of industries has been a winning combination.

Shepherd, who is vice president of merchandising at Sweetwater Sound, said the “family atmosphere” of northeast Indiana helped with the decision to relocate. Before he was recruited for the job here, he was director of merchandising for Guitar Center in Westlake Village, California.

“My wife works for Starbucks as a store manager so she was able to transfer here,” he said. Their son is starting first grade this fall, so they looked at school districts where he could receive a good education through high school.

“And we just happened to land in a neighborhood with children who are all around his age.”

Farrant said although Northeast Indiana Works has not done a study similar to the Challenger study, 2017 figures for net migration, both in and out of the 11-county area, is at its lowest since 2000, suggesting that fewer workers are relocating.

“Our region has the ability to attract and retain talent,” he added.