Dot banks on post-COVID rural appeal, pays employees to move

MOUNT STERLING (Ill.) -- Dot Foods faced a problem. COVID-19 stopped six decades of almost constant hiring in early 2020. The company noticed that potential employees were less eager to work or had gotten used to working from home when the pandemic subsided and business was buzzing again last spring.

Dot banks on post-COVID rural appeal, pays employees to move

MOUNT STERLING (Ill.) -- Dot Foods faced a problem. COVID-19 stopped six decades of almost constant hiring in early 2020. The company noticed that potential employees were less eager to work or had gotten used to working from home when the pandemic subsided and business was buzzing again last spring.

You cannot work in your living room wearing your pajamas. Dot's job is in-person warehouse labor. She packs pallets for the special orders that the customers require.

Dot Foods is still owned by Dorothy Tracy and Robert "RT", the founders. However, they are following a part of the playbook to what researchers call a "Zoom Town" phenomenon. This phenomenon was largely driven by the work-at-home environment created by the pandemic. Some employees are swapping in long commutes and "Gota minute?" interruptions to have more time at home, and a slower lifestyle.

William Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, stated that there had been population dispersal before the pandemic. This was due to the economic rebound after the Great Recession. "But, pandemic-related immigration could open up the door to new opportunities for growth in smaller communities."

Prospective Dot employees must reside at least 75 miles (121 km) from Mount Sterling, and be within 45 miles (72 km) of the city to qualify for reimbursement. For every 500-mile move (or more), you will receive a $1500 check. This amount increases incrementally to $3,000 if you are moving from more than 2,000 kilometers (3,219 km).

Dot has received moving reimbursement for 40 of its 248 employees since May. There are still 150 positions available due to a combination of a strong economy and a high warehouse turnover. Ashley Ferguson, Dot's Illinois warehouse director, stated that physical labor is not for everyone.

Others may prefer to work closer to their homes.

"Referrals are our number one source of candidates. We were hiring more ...," Ferguson this year, although we have always had a No. 1 source of candidates. "We determined that we needed more strategies and other approaches to assist people who might be interested in moving to this area.

The giant food distributor, Mount Sterling, with 1,900 people, is piggybacking on the post pandemic phenomenon that is drawing some of the workforce away from cities. Dot is now looking further and wider, despite the fact that its traditional local workforce is less willing to work. You could be paying anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 for moving costs if you move to western Illinois. Also, you'll get a competitive salary at a company boasting that it has never laid off any employees in its 61-year history.

This is not a new idea. Cities have joined the hunt in such numbers that pioneers at Angie's List launched MakeMyMove.com last winter. This site compiles U.S. locations and offers relocation incentives. What about $20,000 to Morgantown, West Virginia? $15,660 to Augusta, Maine? Or $12,500 for Newton, Iowa?

Evan Hock, co-founder of MakeMyMove and chief operating officer, said that "not since the Industrial Revolution" has there been such a profound reorganization in how people think about place ...,".

Hock stated that working remotely is better than following jobs to cities. Money drives migration, too. Survey respondents to MakeMyMove last summer revealed that they are reluctant to set roots.

Hock stated that the same principles that drive remote workers to move would also apply to all types of workers. "A lot people move to find a more affordable place, while others want to be closer to nature or land.

Aimie Logan believes it was a combination. But one thing is certain. She had never imagined that she would be able to live outside Chicago, where her whole adult life. The pandemic caused her to lose hours at the company she worked for. Logan, 37, was lured west by Dot's friend and a friendly workplace environment. She decided that she was ready to make a career change. She got it.

"I live in an old farmhouse, with lots of neighbors and a large yard. It's wonderful. Logan said that it was a welcoming town after she finished her weekly 10-hour shift in the frozen-foods warehouse. "I never imagined I would leave the city. The convenience was appealing to me. The fast pace was a plus. I now have a Dollar General, and a station. It's a gift I wouldn't trade for the place I am right now.

Mount Sterling Realtors can attest. Courtney Newton has received inquiries from Arizona, California, and Florida in recent months. Lance Grady has received calls from St. Louis and Dallas. Many are looking to move closer to their families, with at least one landing a job at Dot. Another couple is able to work remotely and searching for a home.

Newton stated that "the majority of those I work with don't want to live in a more crowded area." They want to live in the country because of the tranquility and rural feel, where everyone knows everybody.

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