The Return of the Lone Eagle

Do you remember the lone eagle?  If you’ve been involved in economic development for some time, you may remember the concept of the lone eagle popularized in the 1990s by the now defunct Center for the New West.  The lone eagle was an entrepreneur who operated his or her business from home.  Typically, the lone eagle was someone with past success in business who could now operate their company from any location.  They were attracted to amenities such as scenic beauty, recreation opportunities and the like.  At the time, they were viewed as one potential solution to rebuilding rural economies, especially in scenic locations in the Mountain West.

While the lone eagle concept lost traction, the actual lone eagles never disappeared.  In fact, it’s likely that their relevance is growing along with the broader growth in new trends of independent working.  A new analysis from New Geography’s Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox looks at U.S. locations that are attractive to lone eagles.

Overall, the rate of people working from home is growing rapidly and this pattern is reflected in the data on lone eagles.  Among large metro areas, San Diego has the highest concentration of lone eagles in the workforce (6.6%).  The overall U.S. rate is 4.4%, and rates for large metros (4.6%) and outside of metro areas (4.1%) vary slightly.  But, within these broad trends, a number of smaller metro areas have very high concentration rates for lone eagles.   Jacksonville NC has the highest rate (13.8%) of lone eagles among smaller metros in the US.  Other high ranking locations include:  Johns Creek GA, Boulder CO, Encinitas CA, Berkeley CA, Alpharetta GA, and Santa Monica CA.   All of these locations have lone eagle concentration rates that are 2-3 times the national average.

What do these locations have in common?  They tend to have features that are also attractive for retiree migration strategies too.  (See this somewhat dated EntreWorks Insights report for background).  They have great scenic amenities, good weather, and are attractive to more highly-educated boomers.  In addition, many of these locations attract large shares of military retirees, who often pursue the lone eagle lifestyle after retiring from military service.  As we have regularly noted in this blog, these trends are likely to continue.   Beautiful scenic places like Boulder and Santa Monica will always be able to attract well-heeled lone eagles, but other communities can get in the game too.   As boomers begin to seek out attractive (and affordable) retirement locations, their ability to pursue the lone eagle lifestyle will probably be part of the decision making process.   Combining retiree attraction efforts with ongoing efforts to support boomer entrepreneurs (and their younger counterparts) can and should be a part of many community economic development offerings.

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