Super Cities №168 — Small Cities, Big Moves

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

Electric vehicles — and a big workforce — are coming to Chattanooga

The $800 million project by the German automaker is expected to generate 1,000 additional jobs. Volkswagen expects to roll out its first Volkswagen electric vehicle from the Chattanooga facility in 2022.


Modern cities need anchors — executives, investors, companies — of innovation. City-company matching tends to happen according to size and scale. It was unsurprising, then, that a giant like Amazon picked a giant like New York City.

When hunting Amazon-sized elephants, most cities cannot compete with NYC. Instead, cities should pay attention to an under-appreciated and disruptive trend in the workforce.

As growing parts of the workforce become remote, people are moving from big cities to medium-sized and small cities. The reasons for leaving New York City for, say, Denver are sliding combinations of cost, quality of life, and family considerations.

Tech-enabled remote work is relatively new, but we will likely see significant growth in white-collar movement from big-to-small cities. Each remote worker connected to an established company becomes an anchor.

We don’t know if large, important companies will follow their workers to these outposts, but I think a mobile-and-remote workforce is a leading indicator of a significant shift.

This shift has started in discrete ways. For example, billion-dollar tech companies are being built and grown thousands of miles from the coasts. Expect this shift to continue and expand.

The high cost of living in big cities meets a newly mobile workforce strikes me as a distinct opportunity for public and private leaders from growing cities. How will they make their cities more attractive to the people and companies looking for their next, possibly last home?

Chattanooga is trying to capture this opportunity. Pittsburgh, Provo, Charleston, and Charlottesville are attempting to do the same thing.

For every poor soul that must navigate the L train, anything beyond the five boroughs can look like the promised land.

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