Finding ways to recruit employees has been an issue that HVACR contractors have been wrestling with for years, and as a result, most have found that they always need to be on the lookout for potential employees. As one contractor recently told me, “I learned a number of years ago that you have to recruit every day – it’s a year-round thing. You can never just hope that someone's going to walk through your door and solve your problems, because it just doesn't work that way. You have to go out and find people.”

If there is one silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that finding qualified people may be just a little bit easier these days. That’s because while some companies have let people go during the current economic downturn, others are finding themselves in a position to hire. Contractors in this latter scenario may be finding themselves awash in resumes, and this could be a great time to hire some top talent.

But another reason why there may be more job seekers these days is that after years of moving to large, urban areas, such as San Francisco, Houston, and Boston, the pandemic has caused an exodus from many of these locations. Some places, such as New York City, were hit especially hard by the COVID-19 virus, and as a result, many people fled, and it looks like they may not be returning. Indeed, a recent report from Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman showed that in May, the number of new leases signed in Manhattan dropped 62 percent compared to a year ago, while the number of apartment listings increased 34 percent.

For those who lost their jobs in or around a big city, many people – particularly young adults -- returned to their hometowns or other suburban/rural areas, where they have been sheltering in place with family or friends. And some are deciding that they like the lifestyle – and the lower costs of living -- and are planning to stay.

Moving to the ‘burbs is not a new trend, according to William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, who noted that people were leaving large cities even before the pandemic. In a recent article, he wrote that while “the 2020 census will show that for the 2010 to 2020 period, large metro areas will have registered greater population gains than smaller-sized areas or nonmetropolitan territory, with the latter experiencing widespread population losses…in recent years, young adult movers—who comprise an outsized share of all movers—were more willing and able to locate to smaller areas in all parts of the country and increasingly to suburbs. As a consequence, the large metro area growth surge subsided sharply, as did early-decade gains of many urban core counties.”

He added that due to the pandemic and subsequent economic slowdown, “large metropolitan areas and cities—especially those at the center of the pandemic—could become less immediately attractive to movers than they were in the early 2010s.” One reason for this could be that many rely on mass transit in large cities, and the prolonged close contact on trains and buses may contribute to the spread of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Fear of a second wave of infection later this year could prompt even more people to decide to leave the cities, especially when most of the attractions, such as museums, restaurants, and bars, may be shut down indefinitely. While this exodus of manpower may not bode well for large, urban areas, it is good news for contractors in suburban and rural areas, who will likely find that the pool of potential employees is even larger than expected.

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