You want to get out of the city. That’s for sure. Pandemic restrictions and riots are no way to live. You need to be free and safe. Most of all for your family. But did you know there are places willing to PAY you to live there? With the advancement in remote work capabilities generated in response to the pandemic, Americans are getting out of cities while they can. And some are moving to towns that are paying them to come. Paul Davidson reports in USA Today on the phenomenon of towns paying residents to move in:
The pandemic has shaken up the formula by severing the ties between where a person lives and works. As a result, smaller communities with lower costs of living, less congestion and, at least by some measures, a better quality of life are aggressively courting remote workers.
The employees can then help draw leading-edge manufacturers and startups, and spend money in town, bolstering the local economy and expanding the tax base.
“We’re breaking the cycle,” says Adam Ozimek, chief economist of Upwork, an online freelancing platform. Cities “can appeal directly to people instead of the companies who employ them.”
Remote work sparks more offers
Although such programs began before the pandemic, they have accelerated sharply since the health crisis allowed many more Americans to work from home.
Forty-seven percent of company leaders surveyed by research firm Gartner last year said they planned to allow employees to continue working remotely.
At least 45 communities across the country are offering incentives to attract remote workers, up from a couple dozen late last year, according to MakeMyMove.com, a website that aggregates the offers. In addition to northwest Arkansas, areas such as southwest Michigan and Morgantown, West Virginia, have joined older, pre-pandemic programs in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Vermont; and Nebraska.
Evan Hock, a vice president of TMap, a recruiting firm that runs the website, expects an additional 50 or so communities to join the fray within a year. Already, several thousand people have picked up stakes and quickly moved to new cities to take advantage of the offers, Hock estimates.
While that may not sound like much, program coordinators say they’re generating publicity that will stoke a more organic shift of teleworkers from large metro areas to smaller communities over time. As a result of the remote work trend, 14 million to 23 million U.S. households intend to move, chiefly from major cities to less expensive housing markets, according to an Upwork study.
“A lot of these towns have lost population not because they’re not good places to live but because people have gone elsewhere to find work,” Hock says.
Nearly all the initiatives require remote workers to stay in the area at least a year or two. Most have a minimum income threshold. Some require new residents to buy a house.
The cash incentives, Hock says, are largely designed to cover moving costs. “It de-risks it,” he says, noting the economic impact on a community is several times larger than the cost of the incentive.
The communities’ pitches on MakeMyMove.com read like rival brochures.
“More than just pretty landscapes, Vermont residents enjoy award-winning schools, a thriving small business environment, craft breweries and Bernie Sanders,” says the offer from Montpelier.
“Find out what Hoosier Hospitality is all about,” reads the Jasper, Indiana, spiel. “This close-knit community punches above its weight class.”
Some offers are off the beaten path. Honolulu, whose tourism industry was flattened by the pandemic, is dangling $2,500 to mainlanders to cover airfare as long as they stay at least 30 days in the hopes many will never want to leave paradise. Maine is offering a tax credit to pay back student loans.
Others add sweeteners, like the Ozarks’ bike. Topeka is tossing in $1,000 in free Jimmy Johns sandwiches. West Virginia provides a year of free ziplining, rock-climbing and white-water rafting.
Work from home – somewhere new
Northwest Arkansas isn’t beset by a shrinking population. It’s one of the nation’s fastest-growing economies, anchored by Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services. It’s also a bucolic haven brimming with lakes, rivers, hiking and biking trials, and a leading arts and cultural center.
But the region, with a low unemployment rate of 3% to 4%, is struggling to fill about 10,000 mostly technology-related job openings.
“We’re short of … tech talent, the type of people you need for future growth,” says Nelson Peacock, CEO of the nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Council, which launched the program last fall with a $1 million donation from the Walton Family Foundation. Officials also would like to attract more entrepreneurs, he says. “We’re not looking for just people. … We’re being really selective.”
“We decided to do the program to get ourselves put on the map,” Peacock adds, citing the growing list of small and midsize towns jostling for remote workers.
After receiving about 32,000 applications, the council has chosen 43 recipients, some of whom, like Sherlin, have already moved in. The group plans to pick an additional 60 or so by fall.
Among the recipients: a digital marketing manager from Denver, an LA music producer and a San Francisco cloud technology manager.
In addition to the reasonable home prices, with a median of $229,000, Sherlin was drawn to the area by the $10,000 incentive and bucolic surroundings. She’s “able to walk into nature” from her house, which is next to hiking trails and a lake, she says.
Action Line: Whether or not you’re a “liberty retiree” looking for a place in America that won’t tax you to death, or you’re an employee looking for the perfect Zoom town, you need to escape the city today.