Remote Work Takes Poaching to Another Level in Smaller US Cities

The widespread adoption of remote work across the US has left local employers learning to compete with out-of-state companies offering big-city salaries.

The magnitude of the change over the last two years is staggering. In January 2020, fewer than 3% of applications for US job postings on LinkedIn were for remote work. Now, small and mid-sized cities such as Wilmington, North Carolina, and Sarasota, Florida, have seen that share rise to over half.

It’s been a boon for white-collar workers who live in these cities. They can now apply to offers nationwide and often get higher pay.

But it’s strained firms that could once count on local professionals to fill open positions in fields like technology, accounting or marketing without having to worry about corporate giants like Facebook or Airbnb Inc. Remote work is affecting all sorts of industries: Regional grid operators from Arkansas to Indiana report that engineers are being poached by rivals amid the rush to electrify everything.

“There’s more competition for workers in local markets and in ways that local employers have not had to deal with before,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, a website that collects pay information submitted by employees. “This absolutely puts upward pressure on wages for these local markets.”

In Madison, Wisconsin, where the networking platform LinkedIn found about 42% of applications were for remote jobs, Planet Propaganda has been feeling the effects of that competition.

Before the pandemic, the advertising firm would receive as many as 50 applications for new positions and could typically fill them within six weeks. Now, even with the help of recruiters, higher pay and perks, it’s taking months, said Emily Steele, a managing director at the company.