SIEGLER: And he’s not alone. STOEHR: I went back once. I had an apartment down there, and I moved out. I think it was last September I did that. STOEHR: Might not be able to hear it on the microphone, but we can hear the heavy machinery logging over there. That means that somebody is clearing trees to build a house.
MATTHEW STOEHR: For me, it was a change of lifestyle, pace of life. I still work just as hard up here as I ever did down there. But, you know, now I can walk outside and sit with the turkeys or watch the deer. KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The pandemic accelerated a plan Matthew Stoehr had been dreaming of for years – relocating from his crowded Southern California neighborhood to a home he bought in the Idaho mountains.
SIEGLER: In jeans and pullover sweater, Stoehr just wrapped a conference call in his yard. His home office is up a winding mountain road past some shuttered sawmills near the old timber town of Orofino, Idaho. He’s the chief technology officer for a large real estate company in California. The pandemic has brought an unexpected boom to parts of rural America that have been struggling for years. Suddenly, people are fleeing cities for quieter, smaller towns because they can work from basically anywhere. Now rural leaders are trying to figure out how this Zoom boom could bring permanent economic benefits. NPR’s Kirk Siegler reports.
SIEGLER: Speaking at the virtual Idaho Press Club, Little suggested that one fix for the housing crisis in cities is to encourage more Americans to move out to small towns like Orofino. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) BRAD LITTLE: Obviously, one of the things we need to do is have more smart growth in housing in the right areas.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) SIEGLER: Small towns that were built on extractive industries and farming have been steadily losing population, in part due to automation. Pre-pandemic, rural America tried for years to lure new people like Stoehr to relocate businesses or just work remotely because the Internet is finally better. Idaho’s Governor Brad Little started thinking big after a recent visit to Orofino promoting broadband expansion.
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