KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — As the novel coronavirus pandemic changed the world, many things changed locally as well — including the way people work and where they work from.

Research shows more people are working from home by choice rather than necessity. A Pew Research Center study in February showed that of those who have a workplace outside their home, more than 60% choose to work from home. Earlier in the pandemic that number was at 36%.

“Everything in this world has been turned on its ear the last two-three years in certainly talent attraction the emphasis on talent attraction and how to go about it,” Clay Walker, NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership Chief Executive Officer told News Channel 11.

Data from the Move to Kingsport department shows the amount of remote workers in Kingsport has risen 21% in the last 10 years.

On average, roughly 70 families have moved to Kingsport each month throughout the pandemic, with 79 new families from 21 states in April 2022 alone.

“I made the move to Kingsport about four years ago [and have] been here ever since,” said Emily Isbel who works remotely for Nava Benefits.

Isbel said she joined a group called PEAK — Professionals Engaging in Advancing Kingsport, also called the Kingsport Young Professionals.

“It’s a little misleading to say that we’re young professionals because we accept anyone…any age, any background, so we definitely don’t discriminate there,” she said. “But it’s really just a great way to network and really get involved in your community.”

Cody Woods is the chairman of the PEAK council. He told News Channel 11 that membership fees have been dropped in order for the group to be even more inclusive and accessible.

PEAK is a fantastic community-based organization here under the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce leadership programs,” Woods said. “So basically, PEAK’s whole mission is to keep young professionals involved in their community. So and that can be here in the city of Kingsport and throughout our region. We have over 700 active young professionals in our database, which is tremendous.”

The PEAK leadership program, he explained, offers means and resources for professionals to network in the area.

“We also host ‘PEAK Around Town,’ and this is at various businesses and restaurants in and around Kingsport …it’s our way we can showcase to new members in our membership that we’ve got these fantastic local restaurants, local businesses, here’s what they do and it’s a new opportunity to kind of see those…,” he said.

The group is active in and around the Greater Kingsport area, so the region as a whole, Woods explained.

Data from Move to Kingsport shows young professionals are flocking to the Model City, with the number of people under 29 years who are active in the workforce going up 16% in the last 10 years.

“We have our professional development programs,” Woods said of the many resources PEAK offers for young professionals. “…We have a different speaker each month, and we try to touch on various aspects and professional development so people can learn more that way and that’s been fantastic as well.”

Isbel said she has integrated into the PEAK network.

Her favorite event is the monthly “Rise and Shine” coffee event hosted at the Chamber where professionals can gather over a cup of Joe and mingle.

“As a remote worker, I don’t get that opportunity to grab a coffee with my co-workers before work or you know meet at a coffee shop and co-work or whatever it is so that event has been really awesome for me,” she said. “It’s early in the mornings before anyone needs to log on for work or be at the office.”

“You don’t have to pay for your coffee. And you really can meet some awesome people that you just wouldn’t get the chance to in your day-to-day life. And then for me — I just feel energized and ready to go for the day after that.”

NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership is another resource for workers in Sullivan and Hawkins Counties to utilize.

“I do think the future is bright here and things are already seeing signs in it being bright with retail with the number of people clamoring to move here and our existing industry was in we speak on a regular basis, by and large, are doing well,” Walker said.

Some of the steps NETWORKS have taken to attract and retain workers is to link up with counterparts in Washington, Carter and Unicoi Counties — NETREP — and visit Fort Campbell to host job fairs for those leaving the Army.

Walker explained that one local industry has already interviewed at least five recruits from the Army installation for higher ranking local positions.

NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership also recently received a grant to build a workforce portal so, by the end of this year, job seekers will be connected on a much deeper level with potential employers.

Walker pointed out that with as many people moving to the Model City, one drawback is that the housing market is on the rise.

Move to Kingsport reported households with retirement income in the city increased nearly 24% in the last 10 years.