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The Rise of Southern Cities as New Career Hubs for Young Professionals

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We all know the trope: Young, relatively fresh-faced, and ready to join the workforce, new graduates collect their belongings in a couple of suitcases and take a stab at playing their dreams in a major city. But it might be time for a new story, or at least a new setting for it.

Big cities like D.C., NYC, Los Angeles, and even Chicago often come to mind as job-filled places where young professionals move. But in today’s cost-of-living crisis, more southern cities have begun to edge out the usual suspects thanks to their affordability, vibrant culture, and outdoor activities. So finds consumer financial services company Bankrate in its report on the best U.S. cities to start a career, which analyzed government data to gauge the affordability, quality of life, and employment opportunities in America’s top 50 metro areas.

Leading the way in this new trend is Austin, Texas. According to Bankrate analyst Alex Gailey, Austin “offers a solid balance between affordability, job opportunities, and lifestyle factors that young professionals want.” The city is renowned as the live music capital of the world, boasting a thriving restaurant and nightlife scene, along with warm weather. It’s easy to see the appeal of this offbeat city, which ranks 12th on Bankrate’s affordability index, first in quality of life, and third in employment opportunities.

The rapid rise of tech jobs has contributed significantly to Austin’s allure. The city has long been known for its growing tech scene, earning it the nickname “Silicon Hills” due to the presence of companies like Dell. The pandemic further boosted this trend as more companies, including Tesla and Oracle, relocated their headquarters to Austin. Tech workers have followed suit, and in 2021, Austin became the top city benefiting from migration related to the tech sector. Notably, it has seen the largest influx of 25 to 34-year-olds over the last five years.

Recognizing the potential, Austin has invested $20 billion in infrastructure projects to establish a Southern Silicon Valley. However, as the city continues to grow, affordability becomes a concern. It has become one of the least affordable cities in Texas, although still more affordable than other superstar cities. Gailey notes that “the gap between median income and median rent in Austin is wider than most major cities on the east and west coasts, so young workers are able to keep more of what they’re bringing in.”

Austin is not alone in attracting young professionals to the southern region. Bankrate’s list of top cities to start a career includes several southern metros such as Raleigh, Nashville, Dallas, and Atlanta. These cities offer notable opportunities for job growth, affordable living, and an appealing lifestyle. The Sun Belt region, in particular, has seen a significant influx of young professionals, encouraged by the rise of remote work and the need to escape high living costs in major metro areas.

While the south dominates the list, there are also noteworthy opportunities out west in cities like Seattle and San José, known for their thriving tech sectors. These cities, although having a higher cost of living, rank high in employment opportunities. Despite the occasional layoffs and instability in the tech industry, it remains a sought-after career path for young adults. Notably absent from the list were northeastern cities, indicating a shift in the geography of career prospects for young professionals.

As young professionals continue to seek fulfilling careers and affordable lifestyles, the rise of southern cities as new career hubs provides an enticing alternative to traditional metropolises. With their vibrant cultures, job opportunities, and reasonable living costs, cities like Austin are rewriting the narrative of where dreams are pursued and achieved.

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