National CRE News In Your Inbox.

Sign up for Connect emails to stay informed with CRE stories that are 150 words or less.

Sub Markets

Property Sectors


National  + Weekender  | 

Examining the COVID-19 Population Migration

Tomas Sulichin

According to an August 2022 report issued by Brookings, “domestic out-migration  . . . exerted an outsized demographic impact on large metropolitan areas during the prime 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The report’s findings were based on Census estimates from July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021. The numbers showed “an absolute decline in the aggregate size of the nation’s 56 major metropolitan areas . . .” Meanwhile, Brookings analysts commented that smaller metro areas experienced a higher population growth.

The (Non) Dramatic Numbers

The report and headlines blared that employees were eschewing major metros for the relative safety of “spread out” suburbs and secondary cities. But a recently released CBRE report, “U.S. Migration: The Stories Behind the Story,” paints a different picture of out-migration, especially of tech and finance workers. Indeed, “high-cost major markets experienced an outflow of talent during the pandemic,” the report said. But overall, “the workforce diminution in these cities was minimal over the three years ending February 2023.”

Metro New York’s net outflow represented a -0.6% workforce decrease. Outflows as a percent of the total workforce in other cities were as follows:

  • Washington, D.C.:  -0.2%
  • Los Angeles:  -0.2%
  • Boston: -0.4%
  • Chicago: -0.6%
  • San Francisco: -0.9%

Meanwhile, Sun Belt markets experienced a boost of in-migration. Specifically:

  • Austin: 4.1%
  • Nashville: 2.6%
  • Tampa: 2.6%
  • Charlotte: 2.2%
  • Raleigh: 1.9%
Eric Enloe

Yet “despite the pandemic-driven shifts in migration, most high-cost major markets still maintain an undeniable talent pool size advantage,” CBRE analysts pointed out. Additionally, outbound migration from major cities is slowing – and, in the case of New York City, is reversing itself.

Wariness of Generalization

The report also cautioned that the migration wasn’t en masse but was linked to specific skill sets. Tomas Sulichin, president of the Commercial Division at Related ISG, told Connect CRE that South Florida experienced the highest number of new residents compared to other states. “The finance sector is one of the highest we’ve seen many companies migrate to South Florida for,” he said, especially in the Palm Beach and Brickell areas. “Tech follows closely behind this.”

Why People Move

While the pandemic might have boosted outflow migration out of fear of becoming ill, “economic and lifestyle considerations largely drive talent migration patterns,” the CBRE report said. This can vary based on workforce longevity. Younger professionals prefer major markets and fast-growing Sun Belt metros. Career professionals who have been around longer are more likely to examine lifestyle factors—like having space to raise a family—when deciding to move.

Partner Valuation Advisors’ Senior Managing Director Eric Enloe agreed with this assessment. “The question here is ‘how much appeal does your city have?’” he told Connect CRE. “Does your city offer entertainment, attractive housing stock and good accessibility?” He added that another important factor is amenitized office buildings that offer collaboration opportunities and a sense of place.

Speaking of Office Buildings . . .

What should office landlords understand about the out-migration and in-migration numbers? The CBRE report suggests companies focus on the migration patterns of desired skill sets and experience levels rather than “just the aggregate population of the total workforce.”

Meanwhile, Enloe and Sulichin caution against office space generalizations. Yes, the hybrid scheduling model, among other fundamentals, continues to challenge demand.

Still, “office landlords and building owners must understand this is a market-by-market case,” Sulichin commented. New York saw an increase in office building vacancies. But in Florida, even as businesses take smaller amounts of space, “new tenants are continuously coming in to replace larger ones,” Sulichin observed.

Enloe added that many office buildings are doing very well. “Those are the properties in which owners have invested in their buildings,” he said. The buildings with more robust amenity packages are in demand, with higher tenant retention when leases expire. “At lease renewal, are some tenants taking a bit less space?” Enloe said. “Yes, sometimes. But they’re staying at the building.”


Inside The Story

Partners' Eric EnloRelated ISG's Tomas SulichinBrookingsCensus Bureau

About Amy Wolff Sorter

I love content. I love writing it, visualizing it, and manipulating it to fit into different formats. I have years of experience in working with content, both as creator and editor. The content I create and edit provides assistance with many goals, ranging from lead generation, to developing street cred through well-timed thought-leadership pieces. Content skills include, but aren't limited to, articles and blogs, e-mails, promotional collateral, infographics, e-books and white papers, website copy and more.

  • ◦People
  • ◦Economy
New call-to-action
New call-to-action
New call-to-action