The best jobs with the shortest commute
Graphic book cover designer. Television/film developer/producer. Top-level corporate trainer.
You won’t find these jobs listed in the Buffalo News want ads, but there are people in Western New York who have them, clocking time and earning a living from what they consider the best workplace of all: home. Buffalo is full of stories about natives who left the area because it wasn’t exactly a hotbed of activity in their chosen profession, gained experience and a name elsewhere, and then returned, bringing their jobs, their professional talents, and their paychecks with them.
For some, a computer is all that’s needed to conduct business around the country, even around the world. Others find that travel-intensive jobs give them the freedom to choose their own home base—and they choose here. All the benefits of working at home aside, living in affordable Buffalo and being paid salaries commensurate with more expensive cities (but spending them here) is a win-win situation, especially in this flagging economy.
Like many of her Clarence neighbors, Linda Eaton’s first stop of the day is often the Buffalo airport. “In 1989, when we decided we didn’t want to raise a family in New York City, we began to look at other places to live. [Husband] Bruce is a native of Orchard Park and suggested this area,” says Eaton, co-founder and chief development officer of the Galileo Initiative, a corporate training firm. “I spend ninety-five percent of my career elsewhere, but traveling in and out of Buffalo is so easy; in an hour, I can be anywhere in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Ohio ... When you combine the cost of living, ease of transportation, and marvelous community feeling, I could not be happier.”
Fellow Clarence resident Tony Mauro understands. Like many a good Buffalonian, the graphic designer/illustrator left town a few years after college graduation, got more than a decade of work and life experience out there (in his case, Los Angeles)—and came home. “The dream was always to do movie posters,” explains Mauro, who lists the Pirates of the Caribbean poster among his credits. “But to get started, you definitely need to be [in Los Angeles]. Once you’re established, you can go anywhere.” That knowledge made it easy to make a decision once the mother ship came calling.
“I used to visit once a year and when my brother started having kids, my nephew didn’t know who I was; I was the uncle who lived in California. I hated that, so I sold my house, made the switch, and I love it,” says Mauro, who now freelances out of his home, with the bulk of his work—largely consisting of book cover assignments—originating in New York City. “Friends from California can’t get over how friendly everybody is. They strike up conversation here for no reason, and that doesn’t happen in California.”
Mauro probably never knew that Emmy award-winning Shaun McLaughlin, a Tonawanda native, was working in animation nearby, raising two children with wife Patricia, a senior paralegal, and contemplating a return home. “We didn’t want our oldest to be a teenager in Los Angeles, because in preschool, kids were already asking her what kind of car I drove,” McLaughlin marvels. “Our goal was to get out by the time she was thirteen and go somewhere with more homespun values.”
After eighteen months working on a movie project in Montreal, McLaughlin realized that more and more work was being done outside Los Angeles, and thought, “Why live somewhere we don’t like when all I need is to be near an airport?” When Patricia told her Beverly Hills law firm that she was planning to move, they offered to let her telecommute from Buffalo, an unforeseen but fortuitous development. With McLaughlin pursuing development and production projects, the couple set up office in their new Williamsville home where, for the past two years, they’ve “worked in the same house and not killed each other.”
And workwise? McLaughlin says the move hasn’t hurt either one of them. They each travel to Los Angeles a couple of times a year, but from here, McLaughlin has worked on a comic book, a direct-to-video movie, an animated movie, and countless development projects. What’s more, he’s contributed to the local arts scene with two play productions in as many years—Cheapjack Shakespeare and Internal Continuity.
“We wish we’d done it two or three years earlier,” McLaughlin says. “The kids are happier, they have more freedom, we’re under a lot less stress, and the people are so much nicer. Not once since we’ve been here have we had a police helicopter shine a light in our backyard. And I know a lot of people in L.A. in animation who lost their houses, and they’re people with shelves of Emmys and Peabodys. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
“One of the great privileges of living in America in the twenty-first century is that we have more choice than most people really believe and take advantage of,” Eaton sums up. Who knows? If this trend continues, increasingly sophisticated technology and more widespread adoption of telecommuting could do more for the Buffalo economy than Bass Pro ever could.
Donna Hoke is a national magazine writer and editor who brought her job back to Buffalo with her in 2004, and then expanded it to include Buffalo Spree.