BY JILLIAN ELLISON
In 2020, during the thick of the COVID shutdown and the shift to working from home, it wasn’t uncommon for employees across the United States to look at their remote work situations and wonder if they could find a better job fit elsewhere. Freed from the confines of their cubicles, for thousands of workers the idea of relocation to a new city was planted.
The Greater Lafayette area found itself the destination for many job seekers as the two cities began to receive accolades for their entrepreneurial atmosphere, world-class Purdue University and affordability. Among those accolades: a recent Wall Street Journal report that ranked Lafayette as the fifth best place to live for remote workers. That ranking was based on a poll that identified 10 factors people said they most cared about in a remote-work setting. Key factors included high-speed internet, housing prices, cost of living, employment and arts and entertainment venues and parks.
An additional lure for remote workers arose in April 2022 when Purdue University announced a first-of-its-kind program, not only inviting remote workers to move to the Greater Lafayette area, but to pay them to move as well.
If a $5,000 moving stipend wasn’t appealing enough, a few other perks were included: a Purdue ID card, permitting access to campus libraries and free rides on City Bus; free membership to care.com;
a 50 percent discount to the Convergence co-working space on campus and a discounted membership to Parkwest Fitness. The program ended in February after seeing a significant wave of applicants, but the program’s success signaled to stakeholders just how desirable the Greater Lafayette area is for remote workers.
Vanessa Hughes and her husband, both post-production television editors from Burbank, California, saw what the Wall Street Journal wrote about after just one brief visit.
The couple’s first experience in Greater Lafayette came in May 2022, when they stayed in the area while attending the famed Indianapolis 500.
“Before we left for the trip, my husband joked that I might fall in love with Indiana and we’d have to move here,” Hughes says. “Once we got here, I really liked the area and started looking for rentals, out of curiosity.”
It wasn’t long before she began seeing social media ads promoting work-from-home opportunities in the Greater Lafayette area with appealing incentives for remote workers to pick up their belongings and make the leap from the West Coast to the Midwest.
Once Hughes and her husband identified a viable time to make the move, she says they jumped on Zillow.com, cruising for a rental that fit their needs. Despite Tippecanoe County’s tight housing market, the couple was able to find a rental home in West Lafayette in just a few weeks.
Though they’ve only been in the area since November, Hughes says the vast amount of entertainment, access to university and community libraries, green spaces and friendly neighbors have made them feel at home in no time.
“I really appreciate the events calendar that Purdue Research Foundation puts out,” she says. “It’s daunting to move to any new place, and having an easy way to network and meet people is wonderful.”
For Ben Carson, however, the decision to move to West Lafayette as a remote worker was different: it was choosing to come back home.
Carson, a competitive debate coach and product developer for online academic competitions, moved from the Greater Lafayette area to New Jersey five years ago as a full-time debate coach, but as the pandemic shifted work online for many employees, Carson was looking for a change.
“With changing jobs, it made my ability to be remote, and to do that from anywhere was freeing, and I didn’t feel tied down to New Jersey anymore,” he says. “I was looking for different settings, but at that time coming back home made sense.”
Carson made his move in November, and like Hughes and her husband, he found himself in a lucky spot. He landed an available one-bedroom apartment at the Provenance Apartments in Purdue’s Discovery Park.
In five years’ time, Carson says one of the most visible changes he’s seen in the Greater Lafayette area has been the rapid development of the Discovery Park District, an area of the university’s campus that has seen more than $1 billion in development through the addition of housing, research facilities and commercial properties.
“At the time when I left, none of what is there now existed,” he says. “Now, it’s completely unrecognizable having not seen the growth in real time, but seeing that area being taken advantage of to its fullest extent is really great to see.”
Moving back to Indiana, Carson says he didn’t expect many surprises having lived here most of his life. Knowing Tippecanoe County has been a hotbed for development over the last decade, he expected to see some businesses he didn’t recognize and some buildings to look a bit different, but he was reminded of one thing as the seasons changed.
“I kind of forgot how windy it is here,” he says. “I didn’t really realize it and didn’t think much about it when I moved to New Jersey, because for the most part the weather is the same. But man, getting hit with that wind kind of took my breath away.”
Moving from California to Indiana, Hughes says her biggest surprise came after seeing the state’s famed breaded pork tenderloin sandwich.
“I am surprised by just how large a pork tenderloin sandwich can actually be,” she says. “I respect it, but I will stick to a spicy chicken sandwich instead.” ★