Earning high marks in housing affordability and access to green space, Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley were well-represented in Ownerly.com’s recent list of top U.S. cities for remote workers.
In fact, Lancaster was No. 1 overall, while Bethlehem and Allentown came in 10th and 11th in the Northeast region rankings. Lebanon was 15th in the Northeast.
Analyzing 445 American cities for its 2022 “Best Zoom Towns List,” Ownerly examined rent and housing prices; cost of living; safety data; level of broadband and free Wi-Fi coverage; cost and availability of child care; restaurants; and coworking spaces.
Lancaster headed the list with a score of 72.8. Bethlehem, Allentown and Lebanon posted scores of 69.17, 68.96 and 67.51, respectively. Along with New York and Ohio, Pennsylvania is among the three best states for remote workers, the study said.
“It may surprise some that our top pick for remote workers is at the heart of one of the largest Amish populations in the U.S.,” Ownerly explained, “but Lancaster offers plenty of free Wi-Fi locations, an assortment of broadband providers and several options for coworking spaces.
“Moreover, the city is among the safest we surveyed, and median home prices are lower than average among Northeastern states. Green space access is high, with 96% of residents having access to nearby parks.”
In addition, Ownerly noted, residents of Lancaster have proximity to big city amenities as Philadelphia is about a 90-minute drive, and New York and Washington are under three hours.
Scott Haverstick, an agent with Puffer Morris Real Estate Inc. in Lancaster, also emphasized that the cost of living in Lancaster is fractional compared with major metro areas.
That’s pretty appealing for someone able to work remotely, he said. Plus, for example, if you go into New York City occasionally for work, it’s an easy train ride away.
As a smaller city, Lancaster is “urbane enough,” yet within a matter of minutes “you can be in the countryside,” Haverstick said.
People are able to enjoy the benefits of living here while not having to cut themselves off from the big metropolis, he said. That makes Lancaster “really ideal.”
The one downside for someone used to public transportation, however, is “you’re going to have to buy a car,” Haverstick said.
Anne Williams, director of communications for the Lancaster City Alliance, wrote in an email:
“More people are finding out what we already know, that Lancaster city is a great place to live and work. Here you will find restaurants that offer a global feast, an exciting array of independent retailers, and a thriving art and culture scene.”
She said that “people from larger, neighboring cities like New York or Philadelphia find our community to be affordable, yet they still have access to a lively urban center that values the cultural, ethnic and diverse lifestyles of our residents, businesses and guests.”
Loren Keim, owner of Century 21 Keim Realtors, Allentown, and the author of several books on real estate, said that some remote workers are shifting even farther away from the office.
However, the majority of employees who telecommute “want to be within a reasonable driving distance of the city,” Keim wrote via email. “A high percentage of them do have to report for some in-person meetings or make appearances at the office,” and not all have the income or ability to fly in from halfway across the country.
The inclusion of Bethlehem and Allentown on Ownerly’s list of top cities for remote work is no surprise. Keim, who teaches in the Goodman Center for Real Estate at Lehigh University, said the Lehigh Valley offers “ease of commute, quite a few options for high-speed internet, lots of shopping, various entertainment venues, parks and recreation, and a reasonable cost of living.”
“Depending on the time of day, Manhattan can be reached in as little as 90 minutes, and Philadelphia in just over an hour,” he noted.
Eastern Pennsylvania is popular for telecommuters “because the cost of living is lower than New Jersey and New York, including taxes and insurance, and provides both a comfortable lifestyle with easy access to the mountains (hiking, boating, camping, fishing and skiing) and a similar drive to the shore.”
Another advantage of the Lehigh Valley, Keim said, over areas to the north and west in the region is its variety of employment opportunities.