Towns Offering Cash to Lure Remote Workers

Smaller cities are luring newly untethered workers with cash incentives, bikes, and other local perks.

May 5, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Route 66 Bridge in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Nicole Hendersen / Flickr

As more Americans shift to remote work, towns and states are seizing the opportunity to attract new residents, writes Patrick Sisson. Regions like Tucson and Northwest Arkansas have developed "marketing campaigns aimed at convincing young, hungry talent to take a gamble on a new place alongside a less romantic reason to explore a new city: cold, hard cash."

By offering financial incentives to defray moving costs, cities are grabbing the attention of the new "Zoom commuter workforce." Incentive programs vary, with cities and states offering a combination of cash and "other amenities, such as co-working memberships, homeownership programs, and meetups to help new arrivals get rooted in the community." Northwest Arkansas' Life Works Here initiative "provides $10,000 and a mountain bike, a nod to the area’s famous trail network."

"This is the 'revenge of the small city,' says Liz Pocock, who oversees Remote Tucson, the Arizona city’s nascent incentive program that launched in November. In an era when talent has finally been uncoupled from an office, the economic competition between cities isn’t just about marquee companies and their headquarters, she says. Now it’s about quality of life and natural amenities."

The concept of paying people to move began as a curious aberration in 2019, but gained steam as the pandemic suddenly untethered millions of workers. Now, it appears that "[t]hese quirky experiments may just be the future of economic development." However, some economic development experts warn that the programs could become unsustainable, making it "harder to lure new residents — or more expensive as everyone simply chases the highest incentive." Critics also point out that, without further investment in local education and infrastructure, moving incentives "ultimately move talent around and don’t develop it in their backyards."

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