3 of Bloomington-Normal's newest residents were lured here by different things, but charmed by the same amenities
Komyar Moghadam came for a job at Rivian. Sarah Dietrich came because her ophthalmologist husband got a job. Francisco Herrero came to be closer to family.
Komyar, Sarah and Francisco are three of Bloomington-Normal’s newest residents, all part of a rush of transplants pouring into the community from across the country. That’s been accelerated by electric automaker Rivian hiring 6,000 employees in Normal in just two years, layered atop the annual hiring and enrollment at places like Illinois State University. We’re documenting their journey as part of WGLT’s new series Welcome Home.
Komyar, Sarah and Francisco were all lured to Bloomington-Normal by different things. But since arriving, they’ve been charmed by many of the same amenities.
A relatively low cost of living is one of them.
Komyar, 30, moved here last year from Livermore, California, in the Bay Area.
“The cost of living here … it might be an exaggeration to say this, but it’s almost like half. Basically, the same dollar here gets me twice as much as what I would in California. Especially in the Bay Area. It’s gotten pretty rough there,” said Komyar, who now works in IT at Rivian in Normal.
Komyar felt that right away when looking for a place to live. He got here in early 2021, so finding a rental was not yet the daunting challenge it is today. He’s since bought a house in the Ironwood subdivision in north Normal – costing about the same, he says, as a 400-square-foot studio in San Jose.
“The discrepancy in housing from California to here is crazy,” Komyar said.
The Twin City housing market has tightened considerably as more transplants move to the area.
About a year after Komyar moved here, Sarah Dietrich traveled from Rhode Island to Bloomington-Normal for a house-hunting expedition for her family. Her ophthalmologist husband had finished his residency and gotten a job at VisionPoint Eye Center in Bloomington.
“I came out here one weekend in February (2022). It was freezing. There was like one house to buy. There was nothing on the market at the time,” Sarah said.
That one house was a new construction. They got it, and they moved in June.
“We were lucky,” she said.
Francisco Herrero, 34, and his wife moved to Bloomington in May from Salt Lake City, Utah.
“You always hear how like, ‘The taxes here are higher.’ But honestly, it’s not that different,” Francisco said. “Rent in Salt Lake City is out of control. That was another big reason why we knew we had to leave the state. It was going through the roof. Our rent was about to go up to $1,600 a month.”
Francisco was able to buy a home in Bloomington on the same street as his sister and brother-in-law.
“It was a lot more affordable than what the housing market was like in Utah,” he said.
It’s not all pocketbook issues driving people to Bloomington-Normal. Francisco lost his mother this year after a 10-year struggle with dementia and Alzheimer’s – a brutal experience that left him wanting to be closer to his remaining family. Now he gets to hang out with his nephew all the time.
“You only have so much limited time in this life, so you might as well all spend it together as much as possible,” Francisco said.
Francisco said they love the Constitution Trail, which they discovered about three weeks ago. He said he and his wife want to find some friends of their own, expanding their social connections here beyond family. Francisco, who is still job hunting, also is a bass player and would love to find a punk or alternative band to join.
“We were surprised by how quickly it gave us that homey vibe,” Francisco said. “It took us a while in Utah to get that. Especially for me, not being from the state, being from south America – the culture was completely different. It took me easily 10 years to feel like this is kinda where I live … I guess. I never felt 100% like this is my home.”
Sarah Dietrich and her husband and two kids, 13 and 10, have only been here about five months. Sometimes it feels like home, sometimes it doesn’t yet. It’s hard not having any other family close by.
But Sarah said they really like it so far – especially the community feel. “Midwest Nice,” it turns out, is a real thing. She said her husband’s co-workers’ spouses took her in.
“Coming out here to the Midwest, everybody’s been so sweet and so helpful,” Sarah said. “That was a huge point for us to choose moving here. It was the opposite in Rhode Island. We did not make a lot of connections, at least on my end. It’s been awesome here.”
Komyar Moghadam, the Rivian worker from California, has experienced that too.
“When my parents visited actually, they were really surprised. They’re from the Bay Area. My Mom would go to a restaurant or a grocery store and she’s like, ‘These are the nicest people I’ve ever met. This is crazy.’ She’s been in New York and the Bay and Los Angeles. Comparatively, these people are angels,” Moghadam said.
He wasn’t sure what to expect. One of the first thoughts he had when considering a move to the Midwest 20 months ago was how welcoming it would be.
“Somebody’s gonna see my name and be like, ‘I’ve never seen or heard anything like that before,’” he said. “It was one of those things I thought about. But then when I actually started working at Rivian, because Rivian was getting a lot of talent outside of the area, and also inside, I didn’t really have a problem with diversity at all. As far as my day to day, it was like I was working in California.”
And outside of work, he said he’s found a lot of communities within the community too.
“I found an Indian grocery store that has many of the ingredients and little things I never thought I’d see again, that I would only see in a specialty store in California. There’s a lot of Persian dishes that I’ve been meaning to make that I can finally get ingredients for. I literally discovered (the store) two weeks ago,” Moghadam said.
Like Moghadam, Sarah Dietrich’s family really likes Constitution Trail, and Dietrich is eager to learn more about park and recreation options in the area.
She’s already well aware of the lack of traffic.
“Rhode Island is trafficky. South Florida (where they lived previously) is a nightmare with traffic,” Dietrich said. “So it’s really nice because it’s a better quality of life. You’re not spending an hour and a half going 10 miles.”
This story is part of WGLT’s ongoing series Welcome Home, helping Bloomington-Normal's newest residents learn about the community as it exists, and empowering them to make it the home they want it to be. Learn more at WGLT.org/Welcome.