Maybe it’s the Tom Brady Effect. Likely it’s the extremely attractive nature of our community, and Florida in general, for people with the ability to truly choose where to live and work to pick the Suncoast. According to new data compiled on an interactive map by national real estate firm CBRE based on ZIP code data, COVID-19 and the various state responses have sharply increased the number of people moving to the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton region — and offered some intriguing insights on where they are coming from.

For instance, the top three donor states to our region were New York (increasing 16 percent in 2020 from 2019) New Jersey (increasing 12 percent) and Illinois (increasing nearly 21 percent.) People moving here from California increased almost 19 percent, Georgia 38 percent and Virginia 33 percent. Donor cities are even more interesting as New York City and Chicago naturally top the list, but they are followed by Boston and Philadelphia, then Atlanta, Detroit and Denver.

This data is surprising, helpful and impactful. It allows us to quantify and evaluate what we anecdotally know as this giant shift within our country. Almost every local real estate agent tells the stories of NYC professionals looking to buy here. The impact of COVID-19 and associated policies on people, families and small businesses in those northern locales are driving long-term changes. This new data allows the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County to have well-identified targets to continue strengthening the local economy and career opportunities.

A substantial but not yet quantified percent of the people moving here are remote workers who began working from home for their New York, Chicago and Boston firms during the pandemic. They and their companies realized they did not need to return to the office for productivity to remain high. For many professionals this may become a permanent way of life. And destinations such as Sarasota County benefit. The county is extremely attractive for professionals who can work remotely but currently live in expensive, crowded, high-crime, cold cities. According to economic development research firm C2ER, the average cost of a house in Manhattan is more than $2.2 million, versus an average cost in Sarasota County of $351,000, a potential housing savings of more than 80%. Plus New York City and the state of New York tax income, where Florida and Sarasota County do not. Throw in our high quality of life and superior public school system and middle- to high-earning, remote-working professionals in those cities are realizing that they can keep their job and salary but see their money’s buying power more than double. All while living in paradise.

Because of the nature of who can work remotely, this shift acts as the opposite of a brain drain for Sarasota County — a brain fill-up — and a big economic boost. While they work remotely, they live in the real-world community, paying taxes locally and spreading the economic impact of their wages within the community, while providing an enriched talent pool.

The impact of this enriched talent pool could help Sarasota County to overcome one of the biggest and toughest hurdles facing many communities and businesses today: Not enough workers in the very sectors from which they are trying to attract and keep businesses. The refrain that there are not enough professional or tech workers for many companies to be able to locate here is at least partially being addressed.

In addition to what they bring to the community, an increase in the number of remote workers of a certain major company could prompt that firm to open a satellite office here; as smaller, decentralized corporate offices across geographies (thus talent recruitment) are one anticipated response to the changing work environment brought on by the pandemic.

These changes are opening wide-ranging opportunities for smart, proactive economic development. The EDC can take advantage of this shift by targeting those metro areas where we are already seeing significant movement with effective marketing campaigns. While the core focus of the EDC remains business diversification and growth, attracting/growing the people and talent that is needed is an emerging priority for economic development.

Destin Wells, vice president of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, can be reached at [email protected] EDC is the public/private partnership leading economic diversification efforts by working with community and regional partners.