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Will Silver be a Zoom Town?

Is Silver City about to become a Zoom Town? Or are we already? If we were, how would we know? And what is a Zoom Town, anyway?

A Zoom Town is a place where people can live the small-town life while working big-city jobs through the internet. I have known Silver City people with online jobs for the last 20 years. But they were the exception, and sometimes they had to struggle to live the way they wanted.

But perhaps things are changing. Many of the pieces of remote life that used to be difficult have become manageable.

What about the people who moved here in the last two years, starting with the pandemic? Are some of them Zoom workers? Are they attending big-city meetings in suit coats and pajama bottoms? The only way to tell is by anecdote.

“People move to Silver City to change their lives,” said Realtor Becky Smith, who added that she wasn’t sure whether those changes include working remotely for big companies. “Some, but not hordes,” was her guess.

She said a lot of newcomers ask about internet access, but she couldn’t say whether that was for Netflix or for jobs. She thought many of the newcomers were retirees, but “I don’t think retirement looks the way it used to.”

There are several important requisites for a Zoom work life. The first is fast and reliable internet. When I moved here 23 years ago, getting good internet was tough, especially past Pinos Altos, where I lived. Many jobs were impossible. You couldn’t even count on sending simple email messages. I went through several versions of DSL and satellite. None of them worked well. In town, things were better, but still not very good.

Fortunately, in the last few years, Silver City seems to have achieved internet services good enough to Zoom with. Things would have been much more difficult if the pandemic had happened in 2005. You can even get decent internet in remote places now. If you work at one of the few places in town that has fiber internet, your speed can compare with fast big-city internet. If not, you can still get fast enough, although you may have to pay extra for the second level of service.

Novelists, poets and computer programmers have always been able to work at home. But these days, managers, designers and many other professionals have that possibility. Of course, you can’t sell coffee, work in an Amazon warehouse or do nursing from home.

Another feature of many Zoom jobs is that you need to be able to travel. Your boss at the big company may be OK with you working day-to-day online, but once in a while you need to meet face to face. Silver City has never been an easy town to get into or out of.

Sure, you can drive 20 miles to the airport and be in Albuquerque in about an hour. From there, you can take the Rail Runner train to Santa Fe. I hear that some legislators do that.

But Albuquerque isn’t a hub airport. You’re going to need two or more flights to get to many large cities, or overseas. Yes, there are local flights to Phoenix, but they’re less frequent and at more difficult times. You can also drive to airports in El Paso or Tucson. There are lots of rustic, cool towns within closer driving distance of major airports like Denver or Seattle.

Perhaps Silver City will never be the ideal Zoom Town, from a travel standpoint. But if you like the Gila Wilderness or other amenities, none of that matters. You can put up with some inconvenience to be where you want to be.

If a significant number of people work from home, what does that do to the office rental market? Some readers may know that I own an office building. My results have been mixed. My business isn’t hurting yet, but there are signs of change.

Zoom workers would pay property taxes on the new houses they paid too much for, but they wouldn’t necessarily add a lot to gross receipts taxes. Or would they? It’s hard to analyze the tax effects.

If lots of people were moving here to Zoom to a distant workplace, how would we know? Is there a way to gather statistics on this? And if we wanted to attract Zoom workers, how would we do it?

Change is here, but it’s too early to say what kind of change, and whether it’s good for the people already here. But even if Zoom hasn’t revolutionized our town’s economy, at least it has made it easier to visit our grandkids.

Disclaimer:
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to bruce@greensilverlinings.com.
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