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Career Risk and Relocation to Montana – Will Price Founder and GP at Next Frontier Capital

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Until recently, moving to Bozeman, Big Sky, or Missoula, came with very real career risk. Simply put, choosing to move to a mountain town meant sub-optimizing career arc, compensation, and potential. Since Covid, I am noticing that it may be possible to have it all, mountain life combined with a career with an industry leading company. The implications are profound.

Pre-covid, almost always, the choice to live work and play in a mountain town meant compromising on compensation, career prospects, and the far right tail of outcome distributions. The choice to move to Bozeman or Big Sky required a level of intentionality and a comfort with the career risks smaller markets engender. In 2001, my wife and I thought hard about moving to Montana but I worried that we were too young, the job prospects too few, and that the risk reward did not make sense. Thirteen years later, we made the leap armed with a better network, a sense that the business climate in Montana had dramatically improved, and that the risk reward, while still risky, made sense.

Prior to moving, I worked with a coach to design a mission statement that would help navigate life’s choices. The statement, written in 2013, follows: My mission is to live a balanced, community centric life close to nature and family, while collaborating with talented, authentic people to create organizations of utility, impact and meaning. There is a straight line from the words on the page, written seven years ago, and where I live today and the work that I do. Often, the decision to move to a market like Bozeman required that level of intentionality to help ignore the bright shiny lights of city life and to focus on building a life that better fit with what makes you tick.

The good news is that thanks to Covid the historical career compromises no longer appear necessary. Since February, I have met newly minted Montanans who work for Apple, AirBnB, Stripe, Microsoft, McKinsey, Bain, Wilson Sonsini, and many others. While the MT residency may have started off as temporary, as Covid endured, companies rethought their approach to remote work and visitors become home owners and the calculus of where one needs to live to work for America’s best companies dramatically changed. Now, it is possible to earn a national wage, work for the industry’s best company, and get to ski Bridger Bowl every weekend (and some weekdays!).

The change in America’s tolerance for remote work is a profound shift in where today’s best and brightest will choose to live. The positive changes are obvious, the dispersion of talent and earnings will positively impact local economies and reduce the historical challenge of brain drain, lack of local talent, while increasing GDP. The negative changes are both obvious and subtle. Obviously, with increased migration comes increases in housing costs, traffic, and the other hallmarks of population growth. The subtle change may lie in the culture. Now that it is easier and less risky to move to a small town, will the risk taking, self-aware emigre, willing to forgo career prospects for an investment in quality of life, who historically define culture be diluted by those less committed to mountain/small town life? As a recent arrival myself, I tend to believe the advantages will far outweigh the disadvantages, but there are many who disagree and are in mourning for the pre-Covid dynamic.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Founder and GP at Next Frontier Capital
Second issue of my 2021 newsletter, Career Risk and Relocation.

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