Autumn 2009: Of Note

Moving truck in wealthy suburb

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Corporate Gypsies

Move for your job? You might be a ‘relo’

By Elizabeth Kurylo

Moving every three or four years for a job is a way of life for a class of American professionals whose numbers have surged into the millions with the emergence of a global economy. Such periodic relocation is a track to the top of the company hierarchy, and the jobs come with high wages and generous perks.

But according to Peter T. Kilborn, author of Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America’s New Rootless Professional Class, the moves can take a toll on the families, who struggle with loneliness, rootlessness, and a dizzying merry-go-round of homes, schools, doctors, and friendships.

Kilborn was affiliated with the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life while he did his research on “relos”: affluent professionals, mostly men, recruited straight out of college for twenty- and thirty-year company careers. Kilborn was a reporter for the New York Times for thirty years, covering business, economics, social issues, and the workplace. He also was one of the contributors to the Times’s award-winning series and book Class Matters.

He first heard the term “relos” in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta—one of the communities he profiles. Alpharetta has one of America’s highest concentrations of relos, with 52 percent of the population having come from somewhere else, according to the 2000 census.

“At [their] core is a faith in open horizons and a willingness to risk losing ground to gain ground, the trait most characteristic of relos,” Kilborn writes. “They inflate the American Dream and put it on wheels. Following the money as they migrate through the suburbs of Atlanta, Denver, and Dallas and the expatriate villages of Beijing and Mumbai, they create an insular, portable, and parallel culture with little-recognized but real implications for American society at large.”

The book is an expansion of Kilborn’s 2005 New York Times profile of relos, which depicted the families roosting in cloistered subdivisions segmented and stratified by income, price point, and age of home, with amenities like private swim and tennis clubs.

“Like most Americans, relos value their health, homes, jobs, weekends, and immediate neighbors—at least, that is, while they are among them,” Kilborn writes. “Relos tend to know mostly other relos, from their offices, subdivisions, PTAs, and kids’ soccer and baseball teams.”

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