Jan 21, 2021 - Economy & Business

Tulsa offering $10,000 for people to move there

Oklahoma's second-largest city has been known as the "oil capital of the world." At right is the BOK Tower, Tulsa's tallest building. Photo: Phil Clarkin/Phil Clarkin Photography
Oklahoma's second-largest city has been known as the "oil capital of the world." At right is the BOK Tower, Tulsa's tallest building. Photo: Phil Clarkin/Phil Clarkin Photography

Cities like Tulsa, Topeka and Savannah are paying (certain) people to move there, a way to diversify their communities and attract smart and interesting people.

Why it matters: In the "work from anywhere" world, mid-tier cities are betting they can draw talent and vibrancy from major hubs — and so far it seems to be working.

What's happening: It all started in 2018 with Tulsa Remote, a project sponsored by the George Kaiser Foundation, which offers $10,000 and free desk space to qualified people who move from out-of-state and stay at least a year.

  • The website pitch: "Hi remote workers! We'll pay you to work from Tulsa. You're going to love it here."
  • They're looking for people with cool jobs who want to buy a house and set down roots.
  • They get 1,000 applications a week and interview 200–300 candidates on Zoom.

Over two years, about 500 people have moved to Tulsa under the program, Ben Stewart, the executive director, told me. In the first cohort, 90% stayed past the first year.

  • Half come from California, New York and Massachusetts, with others from Colorado and Texas.
  • "We’re seeing people from all 50 states have interest in the program," Stewart says.

Context: COVID-19 has galvanized the "work from anywhere" movement, as recently articulated by Harvard Business School professor Prithwiraj Choudhury.

  • "For years, brain drain has plagued noncoastal cities in America, with talent and companies relocating to a handful of cities on the coasts," Choudhury wrote in NYT.
  • "Fostering 'work from anywhere' is an opportunity to reverse that trend."

The state of play: Other cities offer similar incentives:

  • "Choose Topeka" dangles up to $15,000.
  • Savannah is offering $2,000 to tech workers.
  • Vermont had a $10,000 incentive program that expired last year.

"There's a huge list of cities that have contacted us, and we have been happy to share our learnings," Stewart said. He's heard from folks in Hawaii, Alaska, Alabama, Kentucky and Arkansas.

The bottom line: "We recognized that remote work was a wave that was going to grow," Stewart said. "We didn't realize it would truly explode as it has during 2020."

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