Already known as a mecca for remote workers, Bend leads the nation with the share of its workforce telecommuting at 12.1 percent, the latest U.S. Census estimates show.

The Bend-Redmond metro area has been near the top of the rankings for working from home for the past several years. In 2017, the metro area rose above other top-ranking cities like Boulder, Colorado.

The trend brings diversity to the regional economy, said Josh Lehner, economist in the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.

“They’re either bringing the job with them or striking out on their own,” he said.

Lehner said he decided to dig into data after reading an Oregonian article on Portland’s ranking among large metro areas for people working from home. What drives the trend, Lehner found, is not long commute times or the software industry’s presence, he said.

“The working at home is basically occurring in thriving urban areas that have a high quality of life,” Lehner said.

Overall, a large share of the Oregon workforce telecommutes. The state ranks second behind Colorado, Lehner found.

About half the people who say they work from home are self-employed, and the other half are employees of a company that might be based in Oregon or another state, Lehner said. Their median age is in their late 40s. A large share of them earn more than $75,000 per year, but they also tend to have low or negative incomes, which Lehner attributes to business losses.

People who work from home aren’t concentrated in the software industry, Lehner said. “It’s about job growth, and it’s about startups,” he said.

To gain the most from the trend, Oregon’s smaller metro areas need to create a community around their home-based workforce, Lehner said.

That’s exactly what BendTech, a nonprofit that operates a coworking space, hopes to do by hosting meetups and regular panel discussions, Executive Director Tim Riefke said.

A Meetup.com group that was created last fall immediately attracted 200 members, Riefke said. Half of BendTech’s 160 members work remotely, many of them for large companies like Starbucks, Riefke said.

BendTech wants to become a hub for all remote workers, even those who to choose to stick with their home offices, he said.

Many people who work remotely from Bend were the first people in their companies or departments to do so, Riefke said. They’re looking for guidance around challenges like how to maintain a presence with their teams in the home office, he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

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