San Francisco, CA

S.F. remote workers are being paid thousands to relocate to small towns

Josue Torres

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Small towns across America are sending a call to the young generation of remote workers: We’ll pay you to relocate here.

Communities from Maine to Michigan are dangling bonuses of up to $20,000 in cash and benefits for out-of-state residents who move to remain for at least a year while keeping their current careers from afar. Aside from money, the key draws are lifestyle benefits such as a slower speed, inexpensive accommodation, less noise, proximity to nature, and close-knit communities.

It is well worth the investment for towns and counties to diversify their demographics and improve their economies. Newcomers eat at local restaurants and shops, pay taxes, enroll their children in classes, and can volunteer or participate in civic events.

Working from home is becoming more common around the country, which is fueling reward programs. According to a new Gartner report, almost half of businesses already intend to enable full-time remote work. Meanwhile, according to a recent poll, almost a third of Californians who currently operate from home want to be permanently remote.

To be sure, there is a fine print on any relocation incentives. They need evidence of income as well as proof that the new tenants will operate remotely. Some entail the purchase of a home (albeit at prices that seem laughably low by Bay Area standards). All require at least a year of residency; some require two years. All have a cap on the number of people they will admit.

In June 2018, the Alabama counties of Lauderdale and Colbert, known as The Shoals, launched a scheme named Remote Shoals with a $10,000 reward.

The low cost of living in the Shoals could contribute to increased interest. The median home price in the area is $175,000. Applicants would receive a minimum of $52,000 per year in their remote careers.

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In October, Berrien County, Michigan, which has a population of around 150,000 residents, unveiled Move to Michigan, which offers $10,000 to transplants from other nations, with another $5,000 if they enroll a child in public schools. To get the entire stipend, you must purchase a house worth at least $200,000 and commit for at least two years.

There has been a flood of applications. The county is now sifting through 1,000 applications, with a target of hiring 20 to 25 families.

Not all of the deals are monetary in nature. A number of small towns in Iowa, Kansas, and Texas have free lots worth about $3,000 for transplants to create a home. Prospective Maine provides up to $367 a month in state tax refunds to new college graduates in order to help them pay down their student loans. Graduates may be from Maine or elsewhere. It also hosts networking sessions for people thinking about relocating to have their questions addressed.

Local incentives can be seen in certain systems. Topeka, Kansas, has a year’s supply of Jimmy John sandwiches; northwest Arkansas includes a mountain bike; and West Virginia has free whitewater rafting, camping, and rock climbing. Many properties have a concierge program to assist potential tenants, as well as connections to a co-working room and networking activities.

Tulsa Remote is one of the most popular services. After its inception in late 2018, it has paid out $10,000 to over 700 individuals, all of whom have relocated to northeast Oklahoma City (population 400,000) with wives, infants, and other family members. This year, it plans to recruit 750 additional “members.”

“In 2020, we had a fivefold rise in applicants as more and more people had the ability to operate remotely and were searching for communities where they could provide more space,” said executive director Ben Stewart. “Places like Tulsa were visible on their radar.”

40% to 45 percent of those who have relocated work in technology, with the remaining 30% working in business services. “The others include a Harlem Globetrotter and a Japanese opera singer,” Stewart explained.

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