Step right up and claim your $10,000, remote workers. Northwest Arkansas is calling you.
That’s right, the Northwest Arkansas Council and other economic development councils like it in different areas across the U.S. are seizing upon the wave of newly remote workers to attract new talent and dollars to be put into the local economy — without taking job opportunities away from existing residents.
Economic councils are trying to woo remote workers with incentives like cash, community events with other transplants, free flights, and in the case of the Northwest Arkansas Council, a bicycle. And it seems to be working.
The Northwest Arkansas Council’s Life Works Here initiative, which launched in late fall of 2020, offers select remote workers $10,000 cash, and either a bike to explore the state’s hundreds of biking trails or an annual membership to one of the area’s arts and cultural institutions.
During the first round of selections that were awarded at the end of February, almost 30,000 people applied for the program. Only a few dozen of those applicants were lucky award recipients who had to make the move to Arkansas within six months of their acceptance, and commit to staying for at least one year.
“We had 29,000 people apply for our first round, from every state and also multiple countries around the world,” Nelson Peacock, president and chief executive of the Northwest Arkansas Council, told the New York Times. “We never expected this response. The problem was figuring out how to choose.”
The program, which received funds from the Walton Family Foundation, has $1 million currently set aside for additional awards. The idea is that by attracting remote workers, the region will gain new skills and talent while stimulating the local economy.
But, some locals say the program’s dollars are misdirected.
“I could probably get a lot of my life together with $10,000,” Justin Ratliff, a resident of Fayetteville, Arkansas, and vocal opponent of the program, told the Times. “The money can be rerouted to help people who are struggling. This program is spitting in the face of people who are already here and doing the best they can. They are graduating from university and getting degrees.”
Ratliff and others have argued that the out-of-towners the community is trying to attract already have stable jobs to support themselves and don’t need the funds in the way locals do. Ratliff also noted that the area was already gaining new residents from other places prior to the initiative’s launch, which shows that people don’t need the cash incentive to want to move there.
The Northwest Arkansas Council likewise confirmed that about 32 new people moved to the region every day, on average, during 2019 and the beginning of 2020.
Still, the Council stands by the initiative, claiming it attracts the types of workers that the region lacks.
“I think [program objectors] made a fair point, and we have invested in a lot of our small businesses, but what we are trying to focus on here is: What does the future look like?” Peacock told the Times. “We don’t need any individuals to move here. We need the people working in the right types of industries.”
Although it may be one of the more flashy such relocation incentive programs currently offered in the country, Northwest Arkansas’ initiative isn’t the only one. Such programs have become more and more widely available in recent years, and are becoming more accessible to a wider population now that many companies have adopted permanent remote work policies.
The increase in programs even prompted the launch of the site MakeMyMove.com in December 2020, an online directory that showcases these types of initiatives that are being offered around the U.S.
The website has a “Design My Move” feature, which allows users to designate their ideal location and relocation incentive package, which the company will pass along to local economic development leaders (if they receive multiple requests for the same region) so that they can create new programs in areas where there’s greater demand.
The following states and regions are just a sample of places also offering similar relocation incentives now that are friendly to remote workers, in an attempt to attract new residents and talent while stimulating the economy.
What: The Savannah Technology Workforce Incentive
Incentives: A $2,000 reimbursement for individual moving expenses to Savannah.
Requirements: Applicants must be qualified tech workers currently residing outside of Chatham County, and can be self-employed, employed remotely with a company based elsewhere, or a new hire of a tech company in the region.
They must have at least three years of experience, must relocate with a minimum one-year lease or purchase property and have resided in the county for at least 30 days before applying to the program.
What: Tulsa Remote
Incentives: $10,000 cash, working space at one of Tulsa’s coworking communities, discounted living at select apartments in Tulsa, organized community events.
Requirements: Must be at least 18 years old, able to move to Tulsa within the 2021 calendar year, are employed remotely full-time or are self-employed outside Oklahoma, and are eligible to work within the U.S.
What: Movers and Shakas!
Incentives: Free flight to Hawaii, discounted long-term hotel stays, community and cohort building opportunities.
Requirements: Remote workers are expected to stay in Hawaii for at least 30 days and impart their skills and experience to the local community. Applicants must live outside of Hawaii and be U.S. workers of 18 years or older.
Participants will take part in cultural education, mentoring of local start-ups and dedicate at least 15 hours of volunteering with local non-profits.
What: Move to Michigan
Incentives: Up to $15,000 toward the purchase of a new home in one of four Southwest Michigan-designated zip codes, as well as the choice of two additional perks like athletic club memberships, car service to and from the airport for one year, or a one-year coworking space membership.
Requirements: Grants are available for home purchases of at least $200,000, and applicants must prove full-time remote employment outside of Southwest Michigan.
What: Remote Shoals
Incentives: $10,000 in cash paid in installments over the course of an applicant’s first year of living in the Shoals in Northwest Alabama.
Requirements: Applicants must be 18 years or older and eligible to work in the U.S. They must have a minimum annual income of $52,000 and be a full-time remote employee or self-employed outside of Colbert and Lauderdale Counties. They must also be able to move to the area within 6 months of being selected.
What: The Newton Housing Initiative
Incentives: Individuals who buy a home that was constructed in the city of Newton during 2020 or 2021 can receive up to $10,000 cash and a “Get to Know Newton” welcome package worth $2,500.
Requirements: Incentives are provided at the time and place of closing on financing of the home, home construction must be fully completed and a radon remediation system must be installed in the new home.
Homes valued at $180,000 or more will receive a $10,000 cash incentive, and homes valued between $100,000 and $179,999.99 will receive a $5,000 cash incentive.