Pittsburgh: Relocating to the most livable city in America!*
by Ellen A. Roth, Ph.D., President, Getting to the Point, Inc.
The Pittsburgh G-20 Summit focused global attention on our region. We proudly showed the world our remarkable economic and environmental transformation and why we have twice been named the most livable city in America (The Economist, 2009; Places Rated Almanac, 2007). Pittsburgh is also the #1 best city in America for relocating families, as designated by Worldwide ERC®, the association for global workforce mobility management (2008).
Neither of these accolades is surprising to those of us who live here and recognize that the Greater Pittsburgh Region is the best place to live, work, recreate, raise a family and be part of a community. In addition, Forbes.com designated Pittsburgh as having the second most stable housing market in the U.S. (2008). Health care, education, high technology, biotechnology and life sciences, financial services, advanced materials manufacturing, clean energy and the hospitality industry, along with an unparalleled quality of life, underscore our economic future. Our global markets are expanding as well.
While among common life experiences, moving ranks as the third most stressful after the death of a loved one and divorce, it is big business. In 2007, $32 billion was spent in the U.S. on corporate relocations. Given the current economic downturn, many companies are now implementing cost-saving strategies which include "scaling back operations and/or planned expansions," along with hiring freezes for non-critical positions (Worldwide ERC, 2009).
The biggest challenge facing companies today is maintaining employee mobility in light of current economic times and the soft real estate market. Employers in 2009 experienced both a decline in new hiring and transferring of current employees. When an offer is made, potential transferees, on average, have "just over seven weeks (52 days) to accept the offer and move" (Worldwide ERC, 2009).
In 2007, the average cost of relocating a home-owning current employee was $76,600, and the average cost of relocating a home-owning new hire was $61,929. The average costs of relocating a renting current employee and a renting new hire were $22,112 and $18,355.
Relocations occur for different reasons. For newly hired, recruited or transferred employees, moving is often associated with promotions, career advancement, greater prestige and increased salary. Lateral moves result from mergers and acquisitions, corporate re-organizations, plant closings, or the opening of a new regional office in a different city.
In today's competitive job market, individuals carefully weigh the benefits of moving against the downside of uprooting their families and starting over in a new community with all its risks.
The decision to move is often a difficult one, especially for the "trailing spouse." This is the spouse who did not initiate the move. Historically, the Worldwide ERC reported that "employee/family resistance to move" was the top reason for "reluctance to relocate." That is no longer the case. In both 2008 and 2009, the primary deterrent to moving was "slowed real estate appreciation/depressed housing market at the old location," followed by "high housing cost areas."
Nationwide it is taking longer to sell homes and in many areas values have dropped. In order to address the struggling real estate market, along with retaining employee mobility, transferee satisfaction, and success in recruiting new hires, many companies have implemented "homesale programs administered by outside relocation management companies that manage the sale of the employees' homes" (Worldwide ERC, 2009).
Companies are also continuing to revise their relocation policies and packages in order to encourage their employees to move. While trying to contain mounting costs, in 2009, loss-on-sale assistance averaged $20,243 per employee receiving such assistance" (Worldwide ERC, 2009).
Advanced understanding that moving can be a wrenching experience, and that separations and transitional times are difficult, is the first step towards mastering the experience. Recognizing potential "red flags," and preparing family members to cope with them, can reduce stress.
There are many challenges to moving. Buying and selling houses especially in a challenging real estate market, along with the expenses of moving, can be daunting. The most unsettling problems deal with family-related concerns, such as disrupting a child's education, the availability of appropriate child care, interrupting the career path of the trailing spouse, leaving elderly parents behind, separating from friends and neighbors, dislodging service and support networks, losing familiarity with a region, fear of the unknown and taking risks. The family must find a new equilibrium.
Quality of life issues--the availability of cultural opportunities, recreational activities and religious institutions--are also important factors in making relocation decisions.
There are many ways to address these challenges:
Concerns Of Dual-Career Families
- Learn as much as you can in advance of your initial visit to the Greater Pittsburgh Region. Request information from the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce or contact an independent relocation firm or a real estate company.
- Peruse the Internet for the sights and sounds of this area, along with local newspapers and publications like the Greater Pittsburgh Region Metroguide.
- Explore your company's relocation services. Corporations know that family services lead to more successful relocations. They are restructuring their relocation policies for maximum flexibility, offering a range of benefit packages. In addition to paying for moving expenses, benefits may include assistance in buying and selling houses, appraising property, securing mortgage money, paying closing costs and attorney fees, arranging for moving companies, lump sum relocation awards, a miscellaneous allowance for incidentals, and offers of personal relocation assistance.
- Check on the availability of temporary housing. According to Worldwide ERC, assistance for temporary living expenses is an almost universal policy. Companies no longer favor covering actual food and lodging expenses without a dollar limit. The preferred method of reimbursement is a lump-sum payment, although this approach may be tiered so that there is a difference between entry and executive level payments. This approach gives you the opportunity to manage and allocate your relocation funds as you see fit. It "buys" time to sell your present home and look for a new one, without having to carry two mortgages.
- Short-term accommodations also become important when the recruited spouse has to be on the new job right away. This means temporary separation from his/her family while the trailing spouse stays at home so the children can complete their school year.
- Family assistance programs also offer support before, during and after a move, including family counseling, stress management, spouse assistance and career planning.
- Inquire about independent relocation services, which may be provided by the corporation or engaged privately. Time magazine recently reported that almost 80 percent of companies use professional relocation assistance as a major recruiting tool to reduce family stress. According to Worldwide ERC (2002), the new generation of employees is more "technology savvy and not so inclined to be loyal to one company throughout their career." Therefore, companies offering the best recruitment packages, including relocation assistance have a competitive edge in attracting great talent.
Such resources are available in the Greater Pittsburgh Region to facilitate smooth family transitions. By providing tours of the city and surrounding suburbs, sending information about schools, making school appointments and offering career assistance for spouses, these companies address the emotional and practical aspects of relocating.
- Review all your options. If you're not associated with a corporation or inclined to engage an independent relocation firm, find a knowledgeable realtor. Tour different neighborhoods and obtain baseline information before looking at specific properties. Investigate mortgage rates, state and local taxes, utilities and cost of living comparisons.
Dual-career families are increasing. Worldwide ERC (2005) reports that "the proportion of men and women in the paid workforce is now nearly equal--men comprise 51 percent and women 49 percent." Two years later, Worldwide ERC (2007) noted that "the traditional family with a working father and stay-at-home mother now represents less than 13.5 percent of all households"! More women are working outside the home because of economic necessity, or personal growth and identity. Husband/wife employment is basic when two incomes are required to maintain a particular lifestyle or to secure a mortgage. Moving stresses arise when a trailing spouse is reluctant to interrupt his or her career, has trouble finding a comparable job in the new location or is uneasy with new childcare arrangements.
The following coping mechanisms will help alleviate stress for dual-career families.
Mothers In The Labor Force
- Maintain a positive attitude and concentrate on new opportunities. Couples need to support each other. Share your feelings with your spouse so you can honestly and openly confront issues and concerns.
- Check with your Human Resources department regarding the services it provides. There is a sharp rise in all forms of family-related assistance. For example, corporations are increasingly recognizing the need for Destination Services that support relocating employees. Chris Collie, former Executive Vice President for Worldwide ERC, noted in 2005, "Relocations occur for business reasons, but more and more often, they succeed because of a combination of family needs that are met." Destination services are engaged to assist families in making smooth transitions to their new communities. The majority of corporations reimburse for house hunting expenses covering the employee and spouse, and sometimes dependent children. There has also been a significant increase in the percentage of organizations offering childcare assistance, while elder care is sometimes reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Many employers offer assistance in finding schools. Substantial school information can be obtained from web sites.
- Commuter marriage arrangements are also increasing and warrant special assistance. According to a recent survey, "employers in the U. S. are increasingly looking to short-term and rotational assignments to accomplish their business objective" (Worldwide ERC, 2008). Short-term assignments are on the rise and they are often international.
- Spouse employment assistance has also been steadily increasing. Relocation departments may sponsor career counseling (job interview training, resume preparation and printing) for spouses. The corporation may pick up the tab for a spouse's job hunting trips or required licenses or exams.
- Raise questions about other forms of job assistance for trailing spouses, including retaining an executive search firm, reimbursing employment agency fees, putting the spouse in touch with recruiters, guaranteeing spousal income for a pre-arranged period of time or offering "severance pay" if the spouse must quit to accompany his or her mate. An increasing number of companies not only find employment for spouses but also extend this courtesy to domestic partners.
- Depending upon where you move from, inquire about cost of living assistance, home purchase programs, or loss on home sale assistance.
More women are working outside the home than ever before. Worldwide ERC (2003), reports that "51 percent of married couples with children have both parents in the workforce;" also "three out of four women with children are working." In 2007, one-third of U. S. transferees were women (Worldwide ERC). There has also been an increase in single-parent employees, including a growing number of men. With more dual and single parents working, the availability, quality and affordability of childcare, along with before and after school care, become critical concerns when contemplating relocation. Studies by Worldwide ERC have found that childcare and schooling needs affect the family's ability to adjust in their new location and become productive.
For families in need of special childcare and schooling assistance, Worldwide ERC suggests:
The Stay-At-Home Mom
- Inquire within your company about childcare and school policies to determine the nature of the assistance they provide. Do they offer a list of childcare facilities in the new location? Better yet, will they engage an outside service to assist you in finding suitable childcare and schools for your children? Will they underwrite babysitting so that the trailing spouse can look for a new job? Do they have an on-site day care facility? Do they have an assistance program whereby a percentage of pre-tax dollars can be set aside for childcare?
For the trailing spouse who does not work outside the home, it can be even more difficult to connect with the new community. Most trailing spouses are women. A woman can easily feel isolated when she finds herself in a situation where she has no career, no family support system and no friends. Loss of personal identity can be upsetting. Women who lose their community identities when they move often become so-and-so's wife or mother in the new community. Having to reconstruct a public identity, make friends and create a new network takes time, and can be frightening.
A successful relocation not only involves moving into a newly chosen home but also integrating into an unfamiliar community.
Fortunately, there are wonderful opportunities in the Greater Pittsburgh Region for women to meet other women with like-minded interests.
- Connect as quickly as possible with other people, places and activities that are consistent with your values and priorities. There is a club or organization for everyone. For example, if your interests include bridge, golf, biking, gardening, quilting, reading, physical fitness, horseback riding, mother's day-out programs, Baroque music or coaching Little League, there is a group for you in the Greater Pittsburgh Region.
- Volunteer. Be productive. For women with children, volunteer in your child's school. Most schools welcome parental volunteers, particularly in the libraries. Contact the president of the PTA and become involved with those activities.
- Go back to school for a degree or to expand your knowledge in an area of special interest, or take courses for fun, like Chinese cooking, calligraphy, investing. The Greater Pittsburgh Region has many institutions of higher education that offer both degree granting and informal studies programs.
Moving children often poses dilemmas for parents. It is difficult to separate children from their friends and neighborhoods.
Locating an appropriate school system in a new community, finding a program for a child with special needs or connecting with a team sport can prove to be major challenges.
Here are some suggestions for helping children meet the challenges of moving:
- Remember that children will adopt the attitudes of their parents. Projecting good feelings about the move is a powerful influence in allaying their anxieties.
- Despite all the disruptions of moving and with so much to do, take a break and spend some special time with your children.
- Provide children with their own relocation materials that will tell them about fun things for kids to do in the Greater Pittsburgh Region. Request materials from your corporation or through an independent relocation consulting service.
- Visit schools, preschools and child care facilities. Take your children with you so they will become familiar with their new surroundings before enrolling. The Greater Pittsburgh Region offers public and private educational opportunities for children of all ages. Talk to principals, guidance counselors and coaches. Make arrangements with the school to provide a pen pal or an e-mail buddy for your child. By the time your child arrives, he/she will not only have a friend but will also have obtained an abundance of peer-related information about the new location and the school. If your child is "walking in cold," request that he/she be paired with another student during the first week of classes.
- Assure your children that the activities that interest them will be available in the Greater Pittsburgh Region, and that they will make new friends. Get them involved with team or individual sports, art or music programs, or acting classes. Join a family recreational facility where there are tennis courts and swimming pools. Explore programs at the local libraries. Fear and uncertainty are reduced when children meet other kids with the same interests and they feel connected to the activities that are important to them.
- Involve your children in your house hunting trips. If your children come house hunting with you, allow time for a special activity. If they don't see the house before your move, be sure to take pictures of it, along with pictures of their new school. In either case, let your children pick out and participate in decorating their own rooms.
- Take pictures of or videotape your home, neighborhood, friends and family before you leave. Pictures are an important way of remembering the people and places that you love.
- Have a going-away party for your children.
- If you are relocating from abroad, bring items for "show and tell," that represent the city in which you live.
- Recognize that adolescents will often have more difficulty in moving than their younger siblings. Some teenagers are insecure and, therefore, more vulnerable to change or the unfamiliar. Separating them from their friends may be psychologically devastating. Listen to their concerns. Be reassuring and available.
- For all children, especially adolescents, make a special effort to meet other kids in the new location as soon as possible, while maintaining contact with old friends through visits, telephone calls and e-mail.
- Generate enthusiasm about moving by visiting the region's best attractions as noted in the Greater Pittsburgh Region Metroguide.
Post G-20, Pittsburgh's International reputation is soaring .The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance reports there are 343 foreign-owned firms in Pittsburgh associated with 30 countries (2009). In addition, there are numerous American-owned corporations and hospitals that recruit international talent, while more than 30 institutions of higher learning in the Greater Pittsburgh Region attract foreign students.
International moves are especially challenging but there are independent relocation companies here to assist individuals and families navigate the essentials of moving to a new country. In addition to all of the issues associated with domestic moves, local relocation firms can help Internationals facilitate: Applying for social security cards, opening bank accounts, obtaining credit cards, obtaining drivers' licenses; connecting spouses to activities that are meaningful to them, along with ethnic markets and English as a Second Language programs.
Moving is indeed stressful, but the pleasure derived from mastering new challenges and the opportunity to reinvent your life in a very special region is very exciting. Plan your move carefully so you won't be rushed. Keep in mind that you will become a part of the Greater Pittsburgh community and you will make new friends. Have a positive attitude and know that Southwestern Pennsylvania is a wonderful place to live!
* Published in the Greater Pittsburgh Region Metroguide, 2010.