EA is growing, and there is a great need for a variety of spaces for the community to live, work and socialize. Traditionally, EA communities formed around hubs like Boston, the Bay Area or London. But, I feel like recently, there has been a growing demand for diversification of EA hubs around the world. This article aims to introduce the Great Lakes region, Ohio as a potential place for a new EA hub. I will argue that a new hub could be set up in the green and walkable town of Sandusky, located right on Lake Erie, allowing EAs to benefit from the existing thriving community, facilities and infrastructure.
My involvement in the project started a few weeks ago, when I spent a week in Sandusky, Ohio, visiting Andy Weber (a great 80k episode with Andy here), a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical & Biological Defense Programs, and his wife Christine Parthemore, Chief Executive Officer of Council on Strategic Risks. I was on a mission: to explore Sandusky and help figure out whether it would be a suitable location for an EA hub. Those of you living a nomadic lifestyle, working remotely or seeking to improve your mental health, productivity and wellness, stay tuned: Sandusky might be a place for you!
So why the Great Lakes region, and why Sandusky in particular?
In Andy's words: 'Sandusky is the remote worker's paradise', and after visiting, I have to say I wouldn't disagree! The following paragraphs describe the main reasons why Sandusky is a great place for remote work or perhaps establishing an EA hub.
In Sandusky, you get more for less.
Sandusky is much cheaper than the usual places where EAs tend to gather. According to Redfin (Redfin n.d.), the median price of Sandusky home prices for July 2022 was $200K, as compared to $825K for NYC and $1,460K for SF. In times of remote working, places like Sandusky might offer EAs a chance to work from one place, offering an alternative to living in the most expensive places in the world. Living costs as well as costs associated with running an EA hub in Sandusky are much more favorable and would buy EAs better housing and healthier work environments for far less money.
Life at the water.
Living near the water, similarly to living surrounded by greenery, seems to be associated with many positive measures of physical and mental wellbeing (Hunt 2019).
Sandusky is located at Lake Erie, a freshwater reservoir offering life right at the waterfront.
It's one of the cities of the Green Cities Initiative, an initiative of cities by the Great Lakes that strive to offer a place to do remote work in times of global warming and covid. The initiative wants to offer life at a freshwater resource (the Great Lakes provide 84% of North America’s surface freshwater (“Green Cities Initiative” n.d.)), with access to nature. I like the idea from an urban design perspective: it brings cities from the region together to work collaboratively on developing the region as a whole. For a smaller town like Sandusky, this means better connectivity to the communities and facilities surrounding it.
Access to nature.
People living near green spaces seem to be less likely to have anxiety and depression and are more likely to be physically active (Jennings, Johnson Gaither, and Gragg 2012). Many of us choose to live in cities despite the distance from nature because of all their benefits, like access to jobs, opportunities, and people. However, living in loud, densely populated and congested urban areas can get overwhelming and stressful and can negatively impact our mental health or sleep quality. Sandusky could offer an escape with more immediate access to nature. It is surrounded by parks, and the Magee Marsh (known as the ‘warbler capital’ of the world) is one of eight American Bird Conservatory must-see sites.
Sandusky is well-connected and accessible.
Sandusky is located less than an hour drive from Cleveland Airport, ninety minutes from Detroit airport, as well as accessible by car and AMTRAK rail. You can hop on a plane and get in and out easily, as opposed to relocating to work remotely from, for example, an inaccessible island. Sandusky center is walkable, with an expanding net of cycling routes leading to different parts of the town. Moreover, a new cycle and pedestrian path connecting Sandusky to the wider coastal region has recently been approved.
What about the climate?
The average temperatures look pretty similar to Boston, meaning it gets pretty cold in winter and warm in summer. However, the lake brings a pleasant summer breeze into the city, helping to fight higher summer temperatures.
Sandusky has a surprisingly thriving and diverse community that can be attractive to EAs of all ages.
Frankly, I was afraid Sandusky would be too small to have an exciting community that EAs could slot into, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn the opposite was the case. There's that feeling of familiarity you only get in small towns. People know each other, and in a few days, I made friends in the gym and knew people frequenting most local coffee shops. Each evening, we would head out to one of Sandusky's breweries, bars, or restaurants, or would invite a couple of friends over to Andy's house or go and watch the sunset at the lake 🌅. I was happy to meet so many entrepreneurial people, like for example Justin Carson, a serial entrepreneur and the founder of the Cleveland-based brewery Platform, and his wife Rachel Kingsbury who has spent the last eight years running a farm-fresh produce local shop in Cleveland.
Another couple investing significant resources, time and energy in the development of Sandusky are Rick and Meghan Hogrefe, a couple running all sorts of ventures in Sandusky, with the most exciting one being the Marketplace Downtown complete with a childrens science museum. You can come down to the Marketplace Downtown to throw axes, play pins, get fresh waffles for brunch or visit Noble Crafts and enjoy one of the hundreds of craft beers they offer. If you are lucky, you might chat with Rick about TriLink BioTechnologies, a biotechnology company he co-founded.
And then, of course, there are Andy and Christine! I would argue that anyone interested in biosecurity, nuclear risk and policy (if you haven't heard Andy's episode on the 80k podcast, I highly recommend it), craft beers (read Andy), or bird watching (read Christine) would be excited to hang out with them.
Long story short, the tight and welcoming community of Sandusky made me feel at home from day one. To be fair, the community would probably be one of the main reasons I would totally come to work from Sandusky for a few months! I can imagine young single EAs, families with children, as well as more senior EAs having a great time.
Gyms, cafés, smoothie bars, pubs...the list goes on and on!
Great communities need places to hang out. Sandusky is centered around a walkable heart with trees, parks and public art. This hasn’t always been the case. As Eric Wobser, the city manager, told me, streets used to be far more car-oriented. Where today stand sidewalks, trees and bike lanes, there used to be wide roads, and instead of an expansive green park by the waterfront, there used to be a parking lot.
For coffee lovers like me, there are numerous coffee shops with good vibes, decent coffee and reliable wifi. There are multiple gyms, jogging routes, and a smoothie bar for a post-workout boost.
My favorite place to hang out was probably the Paddle Bar, where you can always find a friend or two and enjoy craft beers on tap or their signature Tiki cocktails.
In terms of food, I would say there's a wide enough range of places for everyone to choose from, including decent vegan options in restaurants, fast foods, bistros and outdoor food trucks. Cedar Point, a giant amusement park located on the outskirts of Sandusky, helps bring more tourists downtown to support local businesses.
An amenity of itself is the lake. Cafés with a lakeside view suddenly become so much more enjoyable. People take boats to go on trips to nearby islands, kayak, or watch sunsets over the lake together.
How would an EA hub in Sandusky work?
- We aim to create a EA hub initially centered around Andy and Christine’s areas of expertise, i.e. nuclear and biological threats, and GCR policy more generally. We will publish a more formal announcement later.
- We would like to run our first event, probably a conference on topics listed above, in the upcoming spring.
- The conference could be followed by longer retreats, fellowships and offers of short to mid-length tenancies.
- We are also looking at creating a coworking space for EAs and altruists from Sandusky to use for work and social purposes.
- In the future, there might be group houses and flats creating 'EA neighborhoods' nested within the existing Sandusky community.
- If all goes well, in the future, our efforts might expand to the broader Great Lakes region.
Help us make this happen!
- Are you from Ohio and are you an EA? Please reach out, we would love to talk to you. If you are interested, join the EA Ohio Facebook page we just started to set up!
- Do you run a successful EA hub or a fellowship? I would love to visit and experience it. I would, in return, be able to help you promote your space and would be keen to explore ways to collaborate.
- Do you want to come and chill in Sandusky before we launch anything official? This could probably be arranged, get in touch!
Thanks to Andy and Christine for inviting us and offering me to get involved.
Thanks to Justin and Rachel for planning a full week of adventures for me, and helping me to understand the community of Sandusky.
I look forward to sharing updates on the Sandusky hub, the remote worker’s paradise.
“Green Cities Initiative.” n.d. Green Cities Initiative. Accessed September 2, 2022. https://greencitiesinitiative.com/.
Hunt, Elle. 2019. “Blue Spaces: Why Time Spent near Water Is the Secret of Happiness.” The Guardian, November 3, 2019. https://amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/nov/03/blue-space-living-near-water-good-secret-of-happiness.
Jennings, Viniece, Cassandra Johnson Gaither, and Richard Schulterbrandt Gragg. 2012. “Promoting Environmental Justice Through Urban Green Space Access: A Synopsis.” Environmental Justice 5 (1): 1–7.
Redfin. n.d. “Sandusky Housing Market: House Prices & Trends.” Accessed September 3, 2022. https://www.redfin.com/city/17984/OH/Sandusky/housing-market.
I have to say I strongly disagree with this idea, for one particular reason. If we successfully establish a new hub with cheap living costs and beautiful nature, it MUST be outside the USA. The USA is notoriously hard to immigrate into from most countries!
It is unfortunate that we already have one hub (SF Bay Area / Berkeley) in the USA, although I definitely am OK with D.C. becoming a hub. However, I'd ask any Americans who want to be in an EA hub, but don't want to be in those two places, to go to someone else's hub (Mexico City, Cape Town), or if still wanting to set one up, to do so in a jurisdiction with permissive immigration.
Hi Max, thanks a lot for this comment!
I generally agree that there need to be hubs located outside of the US, and that possibly, this needs to be prioritized. However, I strongly disagree with the premise that we need to choose any single location for an EA hub and reject all others. I think that working on multiple types of hubs in different locations is the way to go. If there are communities within the US who might want to support an EA hub that's easily accessible, yet outside of the core EA hub locations, I fully support this. And if you aren't a US citizen, you can come and spend a few months in the US without a work permit, I don't think my post suggested we want people to move there forever or to immigrate to the US in order to come and utilize the space.
With that said, I am all for supporting efforts to create hubs outside of the US though and appreciate you stressing this out.
Hey, appreciate your response. Perhaps we should discuss the meaning of the word "hub" here? To me, it is about 1) Having enough EAs to establish beneficial network effects, and 2) to have a reason why the EAs living there aren't constantly incentivised to move elsewhere (which also means they can live and and work there if they choose)
I think that your value proposition of a beautiful, cheap location for remote work is a great reason for a hub! This fulfills condition 2). Then, having enough people fulfills 1).
However, network effects cause increasing returns to moving there. This means if there are two hubs (of the same type - here "good cheap remote hub") that a person might move to, they will all else equal choose to move to the larger one. This means that there will tend to be only one hub of each kind - a lock in effect.
Given that about 30% of all EAs are from the US, and the ~2 existing hubs there are quite expensive, I think your hub has a good chance of succeeding!
However, I think that would result in the above lock-in effect. If so, there might be as many people who live in your northeast US hub (~30% of EAs outside the US and UK) who would like to move there, but can't (easily) because of US immigration. Having a hub that offered the same value proposition ( condition 2) ) but in a different jurisdiction would have been strictly better.
On the other hand, if you can change the US immigration rules (which are btw definitely bad for the US!!), please do!
Hey Max, thanks a lot for the response! I don't think I generally disagree with any of the points you are mentioning above.
It is important to stress we are not proposing people move to Sandusky, especially at this stage it is about providing a place to run retreats, come and work remotely for a few weeks/months, run fellowship, focus on getting some deep work done while being able to take part in what Sandusky has to offer. This means people from abroad might still be able to come and take part (I, for example, don't have US citizenship).
Long term, I would love to work on projects to establish hubs outside of the US (being Czech, I see the benefits of having a thriving EA community outside of the US!). This project, however, is a great way to learn about setting up such places, knowledge I will be able to use when working on future projects. For me, this project is as much about learning as it is about Sandusky as a place in particular, which provides a great platform to test ideas. We are hoping to document the process to create a 'hub-creation package' of some sort to help make such projects run more smoothly every time a new one happens.
I hope this explains my thinking a little bit, your comments definitely got me thinking, thanks a lot for bringing them up! Would be happy to discuss this further on a call if you thought that might be helpful.
I have spent some time in and around Sandusky. I think you might be vastly overselling it in terms of general niceness and amenities.
You may want to disambiguate Great Lakes region - I had a moment where I was confused if you meant Ohio or Uganda.
Haha, thanks a lot, will fix this!