Moving from the Bay Area to the Greater Sacramento Area

Zuckerberg is only the latest, but certainly the most high-profile, tech exec to cast doubt on the future of Silicon Valley as the tech hub of the world. Last year, Reddit cofounder and investor Alexis Ohanian said that “no one in their right mind” would base a new startup entirely in San Francisco, citing the region’s prohibitively high cost of living as a major barrier to doing business and recruiting talent.

I recently moved to the Greater Sacramento area (Elk Grove, to be exact).

Now, I have no affiliations with the city or regional government, and I’m sure there are many forces in play everywhere acting both for and against making Sacramento more “tech-y” or the opposite. Some people want it, some don’t want it; and people or agents with agendas are going to tell you one way or another.

Having said that, objectively, I think the Sacramento area has all the right ingredients to become a more popular location for tech companies to reside. Now, this is pure speculation by myself, so take it with a grain of salt!

Talent. We have both larger engineering companies in the area (for example, Intel in Folsom, Oracle in Rocklin, and some others) as well as a great university with a great engineering school (UC Davis) nearby for companies to recruit tech talent from. (Disclosure: I attended UC Davis for undergrad and am biased toward it as I enjoyed both the school and the city :)

City growth. The Greater Sacramento area is on a population growth, despite California being a state where the population is migrating away from in general. Sacramento downtown has been booming and transforming; it’s already a lot different from the downtown as I knew it from 15 years ago. Many trendy restaurants, coffee shops are appearing over the years; WeWork has recently opened a location there along with other shared startup offices. This trend is only going to continue, as more people “overflow” from the Bay.

Affordability. House prices are around half of what they would cost in the Bay Area in comparable types of neighborhoods (when compared to just the East Bay, not the Peninsula where houses are even more expensive). This is great for folks in the middle of their career, when one starts to raise a family and buy a long term home to settle in. These are folks who are less interested in the hottest party spot and bars in town, but more interested in family-friendly cities and arrangements. A side benefit that will not be overlooked by this group of workers is the shortened commute times compared to the Bay Area, which allows for more family time and less stress. Of course, on the business side this also means office rentals and properties costs are cheaper. It’s a win-win for both the company and the employees.

Proximity to outdoor activities (e.g. Lake Tahoe). This is a major perk to attract talent. Most Bay Area tech employees already enjoy going to Lake Tahoe for snow activities in the winter, as well as hiking, camping and lake activities in the summer. This is something equally appealing to young talent as well as the family folks. Going to Tahoe from the Sacramento area is a lot easier and shorter distance, making it much more accessible.

Proximity to the Bay Area. Places like Seattle, Austin, the Boulder/Denver area or Portland have been a popular choice for techies to move to (from the Bay Area) in the past decade. I personally have work acquaintances that have moved to each one of those places. These are all great cities with thriving tech scenes that are as good as the Bay Area. However, there is no doubt there are more tech investors / VCs in Silicon Valley than anywhere else. Additionally, if any of your customers are other tech companies at all, a lot of them are going to be in the Bay Area still. Being in the Sacramento area does not exclude your access from them. Investors and customers in the Bay Area are less than a two-hour drive away.

Why did I choose Elk Grove as the city to move to? After having decided to move to the Greater Sacramento area, we’ve toured around cities and neighborhoods we might be interested in settling down in. This included Elk Grove, Folsom, Roseville, Rocklin, Davis, and some areas of Sacramento; which all have great schools and neighborhoods. Ultimately, the primary reason we picked Elk Grove was simply its location being just a bit closer to the Bay Area. It’s a good 40-minute closer to the Bay than other cities like Roseville and Folsom, which makes seeing extended families and friends in the Bay Area on the weekends a lot easier. Davis is also a similar distance away (albeit via I-80 instead of I-5), but houses in Davis happen to be a lot more expensive.

I’ve lived in different parts of the Bay Area since I was in high school. Not including my college years away from home (as well as the two years after college), I’ve lived in the Bay Area for almost 20 years. This past decade, the Bay Area has changed a lot. Astronomically expensive housing, insane traffic, overcrowded cities and establishments everywhere (including in the suburbs of East Bay where I lived), and ultimately the abundance of negative energy everywhere makes it not worthwhile to continue living in the Bay; despite all its concentration of tech jobs, world-class restaurants, and our family and friends who still live there.

I summarize as negative energy what many may call silly; but it’s the little things in daily life which can include everything from being upset (not just yourself, but others around you being so too) at traffic, being upset at crowded trains on Bart, being upset at the poor condition of Bart stations, other people cutting you off both while driving as well as in a line waiting for a table at the restaurant or the DMV or the post office, trying to visit a restaurant but taking 20 minutes to find parking and finally parking somewhere a good 10-minute walk away, having to wait-list for 2 years for a spot for daycare or preschool, and just almost everyone being easily irritated because they are going through the exact same things you are, so almost anything will tick them off and cause them to spread their negative energy onto you.

Many folks will tell the same story and have already moved (usually to the aforementioned tech scene cities). Yet more others have chosen to move less far away, to the outskirts of the Bay Area, such as Mountain House or Brentwood, where housing is more affordable. From what I’ve seen, while these cities are in closer proximity to the Bay Area proper, daily life could also be less convenient as there are less options for everything from restaurants to supermarkets and shops nearby. Ultimately, if one were to move away from the Bay Area, but want to be within driving distance, I think it would overall be a more positive living experience to be in different metropolitan area (Sacramento) where restaurants and shops are in abundance but is a little less close to the Bay, while still being close enough to drive there on the weekends.

The only scenario where I would advise against living in the Greater Sacramento area is, and this is more common than you’d think, commuting to the Bay Area for work while living in Sacramento. Some folks choose to do it for the higher paying jobs and lower housing cost, but in my opinion it’s not worth the stress and time spent. If possible, switch to a job in the Greater Sacramento area or remote.

So is the Greater Sacramento Area becoming more tech-y or not? I don’t know, but in the meantime I’m enjoying life here. I think you will too.

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Lead Engineer @knockdotcom. Previously, Principal @drop, CTO @CoinTent, Architect @Zynga.

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Bigi Lui

Bigi Lui

Lead Engineer @knockdotcom. Previously, Principal @drop, CTO @CoinTent, Architect @Zynga.

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