When it comes to making life-changing decisions, some people make a pros and cons list. “We made a heat map,” laughs Jennifer Woofter. That was nine years ago, and she and her husband, Bill Bohn, were living in northern Virginia. Their kids were 3 and 5.
“The price of living was killing us — daycare was so expensive, even more than our mortgage, which was also absurdly high,” Jennifer remembers. “A lot of our friends had moved away, and we didn’t really know our neighbors.”
The two decided it was time for a change. Bill asked Jennifer to imagine her dream community. “I picked 30 things, ranging from size to cost of living to taxes,” she says. Lynchburg was one of three places in the entire U.S. in their “green range.”
Working from Home
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the banks of the James River, Lynchburg’s cost of living is more than 12 percent lower than the national average, and the average commute time is 24 minutes. That was an important consideration for Jennifer, the president of a sustainability consulting company and Bill, the COO of a geospatial IT company. “Locally, the traffic is amazing,” says Jennifer. “I travel a lot for work, and I can hop on the Amtrak and be in D.C. by 9:30 a.m.” They can be at one of three major airports within a couple hours’ drive, and their local Lynchburg Regional Airport in minutes.
When they’re not traveling, the couple worked from home, so one of their top requirements was a city where they could give their careers the physical room to thrive. “We found an old historic home here that blew our minds—especially coming from the northern Virginia real estate market,” Jennifer says. “Bill works out of our home, and I decided to rent a little office space downtown, about a mile from our house. My commute is 4 minutes.”
With their kids in virtual school, Jennifer’s downtown office is perfect — the kids come to work with her in the morning and attend school from her conference room, and then they spend the afternoon at home with Bill. “Yesterday, Bill picked up crepes from Batter Bar, one of our favorite cafes downtown, and we had lunch together at my office before he left with the kids,” she says. “It’s beautiful downtown — it’s such a privilege to work in an historic building rather than a high-rise cubical landscape — and it’s so nice to walk to meet a friend for lunch or coffee.”
A Strong Network
With a population of about 80,000, Lynchburg is big enough to offer amenities like first-rate restaurants and parks, but small enough to give its residents opportunities for meaningful involvement.
With easy downtown access, Jennifer and Bill have found ways to engage with local government. “Being in close proximity to City Hall means I can swing by for the 4 p.m. planning commission meeting,” Jennifer says. “It’s this wonderful feeling of being invested in all aspects of life — whether it’s a new business coming in or zoning ordinances. Within a year, I was on the board for the arts council. You can be active without a lot of effort.”
Before they ever unpacked their first box in Lynchburg, Jennifer and Bill knew their new town checked all the boxes — at least according to their heat map. Close to a decade later, Lynchburg is home, in that feel-good way that’s hard to quantify. “We came in with high expectations, but it has exceeded our expectations. We found out Lynchburg is a delightful place not just because of all the amenities, but because of the people,” Jennifer says. “We’ve thrown ourselves into the community, and it’s given back more than we could have imagined.”
In Lynchburg, I can … “pop out for a quick errand over lunch, or to meet a friend for coffee downtown.” –Jennifer Woofter
Robin Sutton Anders is a Greensboro-based writer and the managing editor of Verdant Word Communications.