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Where do you live, 2019!? Such was the typically hilarious response from a friend in Silicon Valley when I recommended a podcast “for his commute.” From Google employees like him to accountants and lawyers, to economic development professionals and psychologists, if it is possible to work remotely, COVID has pushed entire industries to do so.

With that shift from a fixed workplace has come a reconsideration of lifestyles nation-wide. The overheating of the economy and housing markets in large centers like Vancouver and Toronto have pushed many of those who can move and work remotely to do so. Canmore’s real estate market is white-hot as Calgarians who work from home question why they live in the city when they could be living in the mountains. One of my friends took an executive position “in Toronto” (read: Canmore). In addition to the high cost of living in major centers, COVID has put many on the hunt for safer communities with lower exposure to COVID. It is the perfect storm for the gig economy.

Understandably, the gig economy is a foreign concept to many rural communities. Marketing your community to work-from-anywhere millennials in major cities rather than retirees is a new concept. Millennials are not just a statistically massive demographic, they hold fundamentally different perspectives than their baby boomer parents. As far back as 2009, a survey of millennials found that 68% first chose where they wanted to live, and worried about finding work later. They were unwilling to go just anywhere for a job. Lifestyle matters. Google summarizes this mentality as “valuing experience over equity,” and it defines the millennial generation. That is why astute cities like Bend, Boise and Cumberland, whose primary industries have expired, or are in steep decline, are now booming. They got out ahead of the curve, provided that demographic with what is meaningful to them, and then marketed it. The pandemic did not create the gig economy, but it certainly accelerated it. Now people from all generations are embracing the gig economy, resulting in the redistribution of people and equity from major centers like Vancouver to lifestyle meccas like Nelson.

On Feb. 25, Community Futures Entre-Corp ran an online workshop on the gig economy for this very reason (available on our YouTube channel). Whether you are an employer or an employee, the possibilities to “take a gig” anywhere in the world without leaving your home have never been more abundant.

On the heels of that workshop, Maclean’s magazine ran an issue ranking the best cities in Canada from which to work remotely, and ranked Medicine Hat 21st. This article identified what many of us in Medicine Hat have been saying for years — we are absolutely full of potential! Few communities in Canada can compete with Medicine Hat’s cost of living, abundance of sunshine, and amenities. We should be tooting our own horn and spreading the new narrative that we are open for business in the lifestyle/ experience/gig economy that is so desired by not only the biggest demographic in Canada, but all demographics.

So, whether you’re an employer, or an employee, I encourage you to consider how the gig economy can help you build capacity, increase productivity, and contribute to your community during the pandemic, and beyond it.

This article was originally published in the Medicine Hat News on May 12, 2021 and was written by  Michael Harrington from Community Futures Entre-Corp.

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