Peter T. Kilborn

"Reloville:" Excerpts and Articles

Washington Post, October 24, 2009
Fighting isolation after relocation

By Dan Rafter

When Roberta Eichenholz moved from Pennsylvania to Rockville in 2004, she faced a choice: She could make an effort to get involved in her new community or she could isolate herself in her new home. Eichenholz chose the first option.

nbsp;   "It was either staring at four walls all day or finding an outlet," said Eichenholz, who moved to the Washington area after her husband, Harold, who works in government, accepted a new job. "You have to make an effort to get to know people," she said. "If you don't make an effort, I guarantee that you'll be pretty sad. You'll be lonely."

    With its abundance of military, corporate and government jobs, the region constantly gets an influx of workers being relocated from across the country and abroad.

    For Eichenholz, a retired teacher, the solution was the Gaithersburg Area Newcomers Club, which she joined shortly after moving to Rockville. By participating in its activities, she quickly established new friendships. Today, she's the president of the club.

    "Those first few days I was here, I remember waking up in the morning and wondering what I was going to do that day," Eichenholz said. "You don't know anyone. You don't know what's available. You don't have any friends. It's not easy."

    It's a problem many face when job transfers send them crisscrossing the country. And few areas of the United States see as much corporate relocation as does the Washington area.

    Former New York Times reporter Peter T. Kilborn, in his recently published book, "Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America's New Rootless Professional Class," identifies the D.C. area as one of the country's "relovilles," places where people, transferred by their employers, move in, stay for three or four years and then move on to another city. Leesburg, Centreville and Gaithersburg are all classic relovilles, according to Kilborn.

"There are always people who try harder to get involved in the community, but so much is working against them," Kilborn said in a telephone interview. "You don't want to be critical of the people who are relocated here. It's sort of natural for them to be removed from the community. It's like when you go camping. You pitch a tent, you clean up and you get out of there..."

When researching his book, Kilborn spoke to families who never bothered to hang photos or artwork in their new homes. They didn't want to put nail holes in the walls because they didn't want to bother filling them in once they had to move again...

Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2009
Book Excerpt: ‘Next Stop, Reloville’

This book is about Relos, a disproportionately influential strain of the vast middle class. With its mix of family traditions, education, incomes, and attitudes, the middle class eludes crisp definition. But at its core is a faith in open horizons and a willingness to risk losing ground to gain ground, the trait most characteristic of Relos. They are an affluent, hard-striving class. 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 Mumboi, they create an insular, portable, and parallel culture with little- recognized but real implications for American society at large.

    Relos, too, got caught in the tsunami of 2008 and 2009 that struck the spectrum of world industry. Normally circumspect prophets promised seismic sea changes in the old order, crushing a half-century-old American Dream that sprang from union-won wages and foolhardy lending for everything from groceries to housing. The worst recession in two generations tripped up hardy icons of capitalism like Warren Buffett, General Electric, Google, Toyota, Merrill Lynch, Sony, and Microsoft, to say nothing of graybeards like General Motors, Chrysler, and Citigroup. It stripped the cover from Countrywide Financial’s reckless mortgage lending for one in five American homes and from Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion financial scam, the biggest and brassiest investor rip-off ever known. As U.S. layoffs surged to tens of thousands a week, to nearly one in ten unemployed workers by the spring of 2009, even recession-safe civil servants, accountants, and lawyers (except for those specializing in bankruptcy) lost jobs.

    Relos, however, held on tighter than most. While some in world financial centers were left stranded, Relos remained the shock troops of national and world commerce, the conscripts who stalk and collect markets. To all but businesses knocked off in the recession, Relos were too essential to employers bent on holding their hard- won turf, lest China and India swoop in and take it. To cut expenses as their revenues slid, they were keeping their new college recruits close to home and putting off moving many veteran Relos. And one emblem of the Relo economy and Relo-packed towns like Alpharetta— the big splashy house— would change. The house would shrink, and it might be a decade before Relos could again buy low, sell high, and collect 20 percent annual gains to fatten their nest eggs. But once the twenty-first-century global economy resumes growing, companies will see to it that their Relo ranks do, too.

    Relos aren’t the onetime movers who fled the Rust Belt or the inner cities for the suburbs or who forge twenty- first- century stucco frontiers in places like Las Vegas, and Gilbert, Mesa, and Chandler, Arizona, and then settle down. Unlike the many other uprooted Americans who make the United States one of the world’s most mobile countries, Relos hold jobs that move them again and again. Some companies and government agencies make periodic relocation a condition of employment or of promotion. A record of periodic relocation—climbing the ranks of one company or bounding from company to company—can grease the way to chief executive. About a third of recently appointed CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies worked in three or more locations, at their current companies or others, before moving to headquarters.

    Like most Americans, Relos value their health, homes, jobs, weekends, and immediate neighbors— at least, that is, while they are among them. They get Christmas cards from the last subdivision, but after a couple of years the cards stop. Relos don’t have accents. Wherever they go, they don’t belong. Their kids don’t know where they are from. Relos don’t know where their funerals will be or who might come. They might value close family ties and deep friendships and keep parents’ and siblings’ pictures on their computers and refrigerators, but they see them only for the ritual week at the beach or the year- end holidays. Relos tend to know mostly other Relos, from their offices, subdivisions, PTAs, and kids’ soccer and baseball teams. At Reloville mega churches, which rival Las Vegas for pyrotechnic stagecraft and showmanship, none of the parishioners acknowledged me. Then I noticed that no one acknowledged anyone.


Selected Works

Nonfiction, Sociology
In the global economy, moving every few years is the route to the executive suite -- or mere survival.
From New York Times book on Class in America
Nonfiction, Travel

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