Robyn Domber’s Article on Talent Wars Published in Economic Development Journal

April 18, 2022
Man and woman awkwardly carry a cardboard moving box surrounded by other boxes and suitcases.

Robyn Domber, DCI’s Vice President of Research, was just published in the prestigious Economic Development Journal, in an article about our latest research study Talent Wars: How COVID-19 Reshaped the Battle.

The article profiles DCI’s national survey of more than 1,000 working-age people across the U.S. who moved during the pandemic. It reveals important insights into what triggered relocation during COVID-19, talent migration trends, views on the importance of cash incentive offers, findings on remote work and the pandemic’s impact on career changes and training. Talent attraction case studies from across America shine a light on best practices for competing in today’s war for talent.



Moving Amid a Pandemic

Job offers, family ties, opportunities for training and education…there are countless reasons why someone might decide to relocate to a new city or region. However, the pandemic introduced additional factors for consideration such as high COVID-19 case counts, a new era of remote work flexibility and in many people’s cases, a newfound outlook on prioritizing their quality of life.

In the early pandemic days, we all heard stories of people heading to vacation homes or more isolated Airbnbs, exiting large metros with high case counts and small square footage, and people heading “home,” whatever that meant to them. With available data on zip code changes from the United States Postal Service, we know that more than 15.9 million people filed change-of-address requests from February 2020 to July 2020 alone (compared to 15.3M in 2019). As migration data was collected and findings were released, various organizations and media outlets began analyzing the data in the hopes of uncovering migration trends.

This interactive data set from The Wall Street Journal, for example, made sense of that information and highlighted some of the major takeaways. Such takeaways include New York County losing many residents to suburbs in New Jersey and to the state of Florida; Los Angeles and San Francisco losing residents to other Southwestern and mountain states; and Southern states such as Arizona, Texas, and Florida overall seeing an influx of newcomers. With these findings in mind, it was obvious that there was—and continues to be—a reshuffling of talent throughout the country.

DCI set out to uncover the why behind these pandemic moves to better understand which factors were the strongest motivators. The key findings didn’t point to career-related factors, nor did they necessarily point to place-based factors. The top answers highlighted a new talent trend emergence: talent is prioritizing a higher quality of life and is willing to move to obtain it.

When asked about the triggers prompting their moves, talent’s top three answers were: to have a better quality of life, to be closer to family, and to have access to a larger living space, respectively.

Talent’s Top Career and Location Factors 

Each year, DCI asks talent to rank their top factors when considering a new job as well as a new location. This is a consistent question throughout all Talent Wars reports in order to measure how priorities shift over time, in addition to helping communities (and companies) best appeal to talent.

While quality-of-place factors are rising in importance, the career-related factors are what matter most to talent. People are fond of romanticizing stories of picking up and moving to a brand-new place regardless of a job, but the truth is that it’s rare for people to relocate without a job offer in place.

Job Factors

Unsurprisingly, salary still came out on top as the highest-priority factor when considering a new job (as it has every year). What is interesting in this year’s report is that work-life-balance nearly tied with salary, nodding to talent placing increasing importance on quality of life.

Also a Talent Wars first, in third place was a three-way tie: location of the new job opportunity, meaningful work, and company benefits. Now more than ever, talent wants to live somewhere that improves their standard of living and do purpose-driven work.

Location Factors

When pondering a relocation, talent takes the practical matters into consideration first such as: housing costs and availability, cost of living, and safety/crime rates. This has rung true year after year; at the end of the day, talent wants to know that they can afford to live comfortably.

This article was published in the Winter 2022 edition of the Economic Development Journal, a publication available to members of the International Economic Development Council, and is being reprinted with its permission. To have access to IEDC’s Journal articles and its many services, you can become a member by visiting

Please contact Robyn at [email protected] for a full pdf of the article.