- Tulsa, Oklahoma, is offering $US10,000 to remote workers who are willing to move to the city for a year, thanks to a grant from the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
- In addition to cash, workers will receive a discount on a fully furnished apartment and access to a coworking space.
- By encouraging freelancers, entrepreneurs, and tech workers to experience the city’s revitalization, Tulsa hopes to attract new talent and innovation.
A decade ago, the city of Tulsa might have conjured images of abandoned industrial buildings, large oil companies, and energy workers shuttling to and from their suburban homes. Today, it’s teeming with new development, including bars, restaurants, luxury apartments, museums, and music venues.
There’s just one problem: Many outside of Tulsa aren’t aware of this revitalization.
While smaller cities like Denver, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas, are ballooning with talent, Tulsa has struggled to shirk its reputation as a flyover city.
The city is hoping to change that with Tulsa Remote, a new program that offers remote workers $US10,000 – and a host of other benefits – to come live in Tulsa, a city with an economy that’s becoming more variegated by the day.
To be considered for the program, applicants must be at least 18 years old and eligible to work in the US. They must also hold a full-time job outside of Tulsa County, and be able to move to the city within six months.
In exchange, they will receive a $US2,500 stipend to cover their relocation, followed by $US500 a month over the course of a year. At the end of the year, they will collect an additional $US1,500 as an incentive for sticking around.
Remote workers will gain access to a coworking space that bills itself as “Tulsa’s basecamp for entrepreneurs.” Each month, they will have the option to attend workshops hosted by Tulsa’s Young Professionals, a local business group that’s been inordinately successful at encouraging young workers to stick around after college.
For the first three months, workers will receive a 33% discount on a fully furnished apartment in the Brady Arts District, with utilities thrown in for free.
It’s a tempting offer for what the program calls “digital nomads” – people from all industries with the freedom to work from anywhere. Though some of these workers could hail from the tech industry, others may be freelance writers or entrepreneurs looking to launch their small business.
Why people prefer Tulsa
The program is made possible by a large donation from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a Tulsa-based philanthropy with $US4 billion in assets. In recent years, the foundation has invested a fair share of these assets in revitalizing Tulsa’s downtown arts district with new parks, museums, and residential units.
Now it’s turning toward workers.
“We are looking for people who are excited to join a community working to make Tulsa one of America’s best cities,” said Ken Levit, the foundation’s executive director. “We’re really seeing Tulsa develop as a more vibrant and inclusive place.”
The ideal candidate, he said, might be someone from middle America who chased their career in a large city and now has the flexibility to return to their roots. In Tulsa, he said, remote workers can achieve a better work-life balance while having a greater impact in their community.
“[Mayor G.T. Bynum] is leading very deliberate conversations with the corporate community on how our largest employers can help create a culture of innovation,” said Kian Kamas, the chief of economic development at the mayor’s office.
While the program’s remote workers will come to Tulsa with an existing job, their relocation could give the city access to new pools of talent, said Michael Basch, a consultant for the program.
When Basch moved to Tulsa earlier this year, he had already lived in numerous cities around the world: London, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles – even Tel Aviv and Athens. What makes Tulsa unique, he said, are its community values.
“Most of my friends in New York and LA love it there, but I think many of them feel a lack of community and of being part of something,” he said. “You feel it when you’re here [in Tulsa].”
Add to that a low cost of living, affordable housing prices, easy parking, and little to no traffic, and Tulsa might just be a contender for some of the world’s top talent.
The reality could be far off, but the city has already made some remarkable strides.
At the moment, its Oklahoma Innovation Initiative is spearheading the growth of a regional STEM alliance, which connects students to high-impact careers. The city has also outlined a plan for its economic development known as Vision 2025, which sets aside $US885 million for community improvements.
This revival has prompted companies like Amazon and American Airlines to set up shop there as well. In June, Amazon announced its plan to build a $US130 million fulfillment center near Tulsa International Airport.
Everyone likes cash
The idea of investing in remote workers may seem counterintuitive, given the nature of their profession. But Basch said the program is scanning for applicants that aren’t working from home all day.
“We want people to be at our events, integrating with the community,” he said.
The idea of handing out $US10,000, he said, was the result of multiple iterations. The program initially planned to provide free housing, but worried that some workers might be interested in purchasing their own homes. Next, they floated the idea of offering a gym membership and housing discount.
In the end, they decided to keep things simple. “Different people have different priorities,” said Basch. “Everyone likes cash.”
While there’s a small risk in the beginning that workers might take the initial money and run, the program hopes its vetting process and carefully structured handouts will attract only eager participants.
“We’re not trying to police [people],” said Basch. “We want to make this work for them.”
Similar programs have also been tried and tested in other communities. Twice a year, the city of Baltimore selects 30 people to receive a $US5,000 incentive to buy a home there. And in New Haven, Connecticut, the city provides up to $US10,000 of down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers.
“People wouldn’t normally consider Tulsa,” said Basch, “but with a little bit of incentive, maybe they will try it on for size.”