Communities lure remote workers with cash and perks

As remote work continues to be a big part of many of our lives, remote workers are reconsidering their lifestyles and communities are taking advantage of that.

More than 40 towns across the U.S. are offering relocation incentives for remote workers, according to the website Make My Move, which helps people apply for these programs. Incentives include anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 in cash payments or housing assistance, plus perks like park passes and camping equipment to sweeten the deal.

At the end of 2019, Cynthia Rollins was looking for a change. She was tired of the cost of living in San Francisco and was starting a new, remote job when she came across Tulsa Remote.

“And I applied really having no sense of whether or not I’d actually move to Tulsa because I had never visited,” Rollins said.

Then, the pandemic happened. Not long after, Rollins was approved. Tulsa Remote, which is funded by a local foundation, gave her $10,000 to move to Oklahoma.

She figured: Why not?

“I am enough of an adventure seeker where I could live anyplace for a year,” Rollins said.

Now, she thinks she’ll stay and may even buy a house.

There are programs like this in Augusta, Maine; Bemidji, Minnesota; and Savannah, Georgia, just to name a few.

For organizations like Choose Topeka, in Kansas, incentives are funded by the county and include up to $15,000. The real clincher: free Jimmy John’s.

“If you actually purchase a home in one of their delivery zones, you do get an extra $1,000,” said Bob Ross, with Choose Topeka.

That’s a thousand dollars — in sub sandwiches. So far, 43 people have moved.

The town is seeing a big return on the investment, Ross said. The average salary of relocating workers is $35,000 more than the local average. That’s more income pumped into Topeka’s housing, recreation, and retail.

This can be a great fix for places facing a declining population or economy, said Prithwiraj Choudhury, who researches the future of work at Harvard.

“Workers don’t go there because there are no jobs. And companies don’t want to go there either, because there’s no talent. So there’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” he said.

Communities need to invest in the internet and housing for programs like this to be successful, Choudhury said. But the pandemic has made a lot of people realize they want a different kind of life, he added, and a little cash reward helps offset some of the risks that comes with making a big change.