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Calif. Tech Workers Are Moving to Boise, Driving Up Costs

Many California tech workers are moving out of the state’s Bay Area and into neighboring Boise, which is driving up housing costs, increasing development and causing resentment among local Idaho residents.

(TNS) — An Apple executive apparently used to fly his plane from Boise, Idaho, to Cupertino, Calif., every weekday, a flight that took about an hour and a half.

That's about as long as it took Jeff Blickman — who recounted this piece of Boise tech lore — to commute to his job at Palo Alto every day when he lived in San Francisco.

"That sounds like a good life," Blickman joked while chatting to SFGATE. He's the director of investments and acquisitions for the Idaho investment firm Alturas and has worked fervently to attract new tech talent to Boise since moving there from the Bay Area in 2017.

Nearly half of Boise's annual net migration from 2014 to 2018 came from California. That's a testament to multiple things: California's relative proximity to Boise, Boise's affordability and, perhaps most of all, the growing appeal that Boise has among the tech class.

Boise is not quite a nascent tech hot spot the way, say, Austin or Miami is. Boise lacks the glut of brand-name figures moving in the way Austin does, nor does it have an aggressive government-sponsored campaign on par with Miami. But its proponents say what those cities (and the Bay Area) lack is the easy charm ingrained in Boise and its inhabitants.

"It can be a softer place to land," Blickman told SFGATE. "People are very willing to [say], 'Oh, hey, I met you at the park, let's hang out.' It's so social in that respect. The barriers to entry in the community are insanely low."

Tech newcomers see Boise as a city for those in pursuit of balance — of proximity to a proper city and to Hulls Gulch Reserve, the Boise Foothills and other pastoral spoils located within the city, or, in Blickman's case, the person who wants to grow a family and a career at the same time.

The way Clark Krause puts it, it's "mountain living with the amenities of the city."

Krause moved to Boise about 11 years ago after spending some time out in Los Gatos and is now the executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership — an agency that helps to spur Boise's economic development.
Nowhere else he's lived could compare to the quality of life he's received in Boise, he says.

"The difference that I find even here, compared to a Denver, or a Salt Lake City, who obviously have recreation as well, is that because our foothills are preserved, I actually can open my garage door and be on a mountain bike trail or next to a river within a mile from downtown," he said.

On a base level, the allure of Idaho's capital is apparent. It's a college town with a rich and robust cultural scene and an adjacency to nature. It's not very crowded relative to San Francisco or the Silicon Valley, with a population of just over 226,000, and its size means that most of the city's hot spots are only a hop-skip away from each other.

It also doesn't come with the steep price tag of a big city, though that's changing fast.

"I loved living in Los Gatos, California. I can't think of a more beautiful place, but you know the affordability ... and having a real job and not being worth millions, I was never going to really enjoy Los Gatos to the extent that I can enjoy Boise," Krause said.

These qualities are what drew Blickman away from the Bay Area when he and his wife wanted to start a family. Unlike many other movers, he was first introduced to Boise because his wife, a ballet dancer, was hired at a ballet company in the city.

"She really put Boise on our map," he said. "As we got serious, she retired and moved out to the Bay Area."

But he and his wife agreed that they would uproot their city life and head on to Boise — and they did.

There's not much Blickman misses about the Bay Area. Maybe he'll crave a dumpling from his favorite San Francisco Chinatown haunt, or miss the smell of the salty air on foggy mornings. He'd also appreciate it if the influx of Californians meant an increase in racial diversity.

For him, the most important balancing act that he was able to accomplish after moving to Boise is one that has grown increasingly elusive.

As the pandemic all but shattered any semblance of separation between the work self and the life self, Blickman has found that Boise, with its good education system, slower pace and robust community, is very, very conducive to starting and raising his family.

"People really do try to create an environment of balance, of family-oriented [life]. These are the kind of cultural, social things that have existed here that are a really important priority."

The shift for Blickman — from the first few months of his son's life in the Bay Area to his new life in Idaho — was profound.

"Frankly, I felt like I wasn't being successful in that side of my life personally because I was commuting an hour-plus each way and spent all that time in a car for the first few months of my son's life," he said. "I basically saw him in the middle of the night when my eyes were glossed over or on weekends."

It also helps that Boise is much safer than the Bay Area, he says, to the point where people leave their doors unlocked. The worst kind of crime, he says, is petty theft "if you leave your car doors unlocked."

"It's that kind of Pleasantville-y type of safety that we feel here."

The siren song of the City of Trees that lured Blickman and Krause in is attracting many other Californians.

A third of Boise newcomers were Californians when Krause first decamped to the city. That number has grown exponentially over the course of the pandemic — as remote work becomes the new normal for tech companies large and small.

And it's not just for families, either. Krause boasted that the kids who relocate to Boise and the larger Treasure Valley for school tend to stick around — it has the fifth-highest rate of college graduates remaining in the area nationwide (and would be higher if there were more jobs, Krause hinted.)

And that groundswell of young talent, said Krause, means that Boise is becoming a more appealing place for tech entrepreneurs and existing businesses to open up shop, both from the Bay Area and Seattle.

(Microsoft and HP are among the tech heavyweights with offices in Boise, though the latter announced in 2019 that it would lay of thousands of workers worldwide by 2022 as part of a massive company restructuring.)

"I think that the community is on the upswing here and I think we're going to see more and more of it," he said.

Blickman concurs.

"There are companies that are recruiting talent from outside of Idaho and relocating it here," Blickman said. "And I don't know if it's a trend, yet, but it certainly shows the desire for both, you know, skill sets and talent to come to a place like Boise and say, 'Oh, I can live my best life there,' as well as to have the types of companies that are doing, you know, disrupting industries and doing interesting enough work and innovation."

But that mass influx comes at a cost.

The relocation of families and young techies disinterested in big-city living has driven housing costs up significantly in Boise. ( Ketchum, a popular resort town a few hours east of Boise, has also felt a severe impact of locals being forced out following the rush of Silicon Valleyites coming in.)

According to Zillow, the average cost of a home at the end of May rose to $472,634 — a more than 33 percent increase from the year before, and nearly double the average price of a house in 2016.

Faisal Shah, the CEO of the Boise-based business-to-business company AppDetex, also said that the post-pandemic push for remote work within the industry is a double-edged sword.

"The problem is that while Boise has always been 20-30 percent lower in salaries for developers compared to the Bay Area, now Boise-area developers are being recruited by Bay Area companies while they live in Boise, and these developers then receive Bay Area salaries," Shah said over email. "It is putting more pressure on Boise tech start-ups to increase their compensation packages in order to more closely align with Bay Area comp packages."

The young talent cultivated in Boise, he says, is also "being recruited by out-of-state companies from the Bay Area" — making it harder to retain skilled workers in the city. (Krause noted this phenomenon but also said that there's a "boomerang" effect in that workers relocate temporarily to build their professional careers before moving back to Boise for good.)

It's little wonder, then, that locals are beginning to grow resentful of the Californian encroachment on their once-secret city.

Carrie Despot, a born-and-raised Idahoan, told the local news station KTVB that the migration to Idaho has grown exponentially in recent years, and that the city's landscape is quickly shifting with this new influx. (Despot did not respond to a request for comment from SFGATE.)

"Every time I turn around there's a piece of land that's been developed on," Despot told the news station. "Not only has it been developed but maybe instead of building 30 houses, they build 60. As an Idaho native, the look and feel of our state has changed a lot and there are pros and cons."

Many long-time Boiseites are worried about being driven out of the neighborhood by the tech elite. A recent mayoral candidate even ran on the single-subject platform of dissuading Californians from moving in.

And other reactions have been more incensed, such as one resident who spoke to SFGATE via email on condition on anonymity. He declined to respond to a longer list of questions, saying he was "too depressed about this shit" to critically lay out his contempt for the types of people moving in and his sadness at rising housing costs.

"Just know that every other local I know is also massively depressed about what is going on," he told me in an email. "Rich hypercapitalist tech right-wing scumf—ks will continue moving their companies/families out here in droves as the lower classes are priced out. The tide moves in, there is no stopping it."

Blickman acknowledged the increasing inequities the longer he's moved in. "That gap between living wages and and the cost of living here has gotten a little bit wide," he said, but attributes the pricing out to property taxes.

Much of the concern is due, rightfully, to the rising cost of living. But a small — and still meaningful — aspect of their frustration is the worry that this city will lose its charm once tech workers are fully entrenched in Boise.

There's a cultural clash that comes when the city slickers barge in. Blickman himself joked repeatedly that he had an in that many of his California peers did not because of his Midwestern upbringing. (He was born and raised in Indiana.)

Part of the small-town feel means that there's a responsibility to one another, Krause says, that isn't very common in bigger cities — especially in the bay.

"We joke about it but, you know, the Kevin Bacon 'seven degrees of separation' here is about two degrees," he said. "And so, if you live here, you have to become more responsible to your neighbor, because if you embarrass yourself by giving somebody the bird in a car next to you, you're probably going to be sitting in church with them in the next hour or they're in line at a grocery store behind you or you find out it's your boss's cousin.

"I think there's a responsibility in a community this size, where you know you're not going to be anonymous."

Blickman emphasized that his Midwestern upbringing helped him ease into the placidity of Boise. (He also tacitly acknowledges that being a white man in a city that's 89 percent white certainly helps and said he wants part of the Californian push to bolster Boise's racial diversity.)

And while locals and recent techie newcomers will have to grapple with this tension, and what it means culturally, economically and even politically — it seems like the appeal of Boise is unlikely to change anytime soon.

"I hope that as we grow, we keep those values inside and out and so that people who have been here a long time continue to be kind and respectful and have that reverence for one another," said Krause. "I think if we can make sure that the people that are coming in want to be here because of what it is today, not because of what they're leaving behind."

(c)2021 SFGate, San Francisco. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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