Will Emigres from the Coasts Change Us -- Or Are They Like Us?

Florida and Texas are experiencing dramatic results from the covid-induced diaspora of many thousands of Americans from the coasts to the American heartland. Gaggles of disenchanted New Yorkers are flocking to Florida these days, and legions of tech workers from Silicon Valley are disembarking for Austin.


This is putting real humans into a prospective development that began as soon as the pandemic, social unrest and other dynamics started dislodging Americans across the country. The question was: Will coastal denizens coming to Flyover Country change us, or are they coming here because they’re like us?


In the heartland, where states are a mix of blue and purple and red, the prospect of a Great Reshuffling raised concerns whether emigres from the coasts would be a cultural fit for our small towns, suburbs and cities -- even while their politics might be all over the map.


But such questions largely have been suspended because, as of now, no strong post-pandemic patterns have emerged in movements to most of flyover country in the wake of the coronavirus shutdowns, the rise of remote work and society’s general restlessness. And the migration and integration that’s occurred so far appears to have reinforced, rather than disturbed, the social and cultural norms of the places in our region where people are moving.


The Modest Adjustment


One reason is the Great Reshuffling has turned out more like the Modest Adjustment in where Americans actually choose to live. Initial expectations about the volume of migrants may have been unrealistic; new migration and living patterns may be taking longer than anticipated to develop – or both.


“The biggest migratory flows so far have been within metro areas,” demographer Joel Kotkin told me. For it turns out that when people determined to leave some of the big, discredited coastal cities where they were living, most simply preferred to move out to suburbs and exurbs of the same metropolitan areas – not to Nebraska or Arkansas or Indiana.


Some heartland outposts have tried hard to insert themselves into the Great Reshuffling, yielding some encouraging results. In Berrien County in the southwestern corner of the state, for example, the Cornerstone Alliance has seen more than 2,500 people apply for grants of $10,000 that are available to them if they’re a remote worker and move to the area from out of state, and buy or build a house there – and $15,000 if they also enroll kids in public schools.


“There’s long-term opportunity here,” said Rob Cleveland, executive director of the alliance, which has private funding for its Move to Michigan program. “We’ve got great manufacturing jobs and other companies, we’ve got a tourism economy, and we’ve spent decades building the amenities that people want in where they’re going to choose to live.”


Nearly half of applicants are from the Chicago area, where many already are familiar with Berrien County communities such as New Buffalo, Stevensville and Benton Harbor that follow Interstate 94 north close to Lake Michigan before the highway veers east toward Detroit.


So far, only three families actually have received Move to Michigan grants. Cleveland told me that’s mostly because it’s so hard for applicants to find acceptable housing in Berrien County’s torrid market. But the Cornerstone Alliance expects to continue the program “until we’ve brought at least 25 new families to the area.”

Cultural Absorption


Meanwhile, in Tulsa, an initiative called Tulsa Remote seeks to enhance the city’s workforce by offering remote workers $10,000 to move within the city limits for at least one year. Funded by the city’s George Kaiser Family Foundation, the effort drew more than 375 people to Tulsa in 2020, the largest percentage of them from California.


“But despite the potential of a culture clash, an overwhelming number of the new residents have embraced Tulsa and the ‘heartland values’ associated with states sometimes derided as ‘flyover’ territory,” said Deseret News. And, the publisher said, more than 95 percent of last year’s participants elected to stay longer.


The new emigration from New York City to Florida and Silicon Valley to Texas is much greater in volume even while its impact socially and culturally has been minimal. Indeed, most of these emigres appear to be self-selecting conservatives rather than progressives from blue states bent on turning their new, red homes blue.


“People moving to Texas and Florida, even New Yorkers, might be more conservative on issues like Israel or taxes, and on some cultural issues,” Kotkin said. “These people aren’t rednecks. They’re not likely to be evangelicals. They’re not likely to be gun owners or people who use guns a lot. And on social issues, they [collectively] might move these areas more toward the center, but on economic issues they will reinforce conservatism.”

No Purple Here


The governors of Florida and Texas have their own takes on this issue. The Sunshine State has been attracting thousands who’ve been leaving Gotham because of how the city has handled covid restrictions, schooling and other matters. They generally display conservative sentiments, including droves of Orthodox Jewish families who’ve been leaving Brooklyn for South Florida to pursue education choice, low taxes and good governance, according to Allan Jacob, a Florida doctor who wrote about the phenomenon in the Wall Street Journal.


Florida’s new immigrants typically admire Gov. Ron DeSantis for his open attitude toward economic activity and personal freedom even amid the persistent pandemic. The governor himself has said these people are “overwhelmingly” registering in Florida as Republicans, including Democrats who’ve fled New York due to covid restrictions.


Meanwhile, Texas keeps drawing lots of businesses from the Golden State, highlighted by several digital firms that are moving their headquarters or big operations to Austin, which already was a digital mecca. Most of the new Texans appear to be embracing their new state’s historic identity for reasons of health, safety and economics -- but also ideologically.


“I’ve been visiting with most of the business leaders moving to Austin,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told me. “They’re true-blue conservatives or even libertarians. One reason they fled California is that they disdained the policies in California. Texas is importing California conservatives, and California is importing Texas liberals.”


As with any open culture over time, political views and social patterns are becoming more diverse in Flyover Country. The just-revealed results of the 2020 U.S. Census showed, for example, that pockets of the Midwest and northern Great plains diversified ethnically at a faster rate than the rest of the nation during the last decade, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

No doubt our newest residents are experiencing what we’ve known for a long time: the best places in America are in the center of America.