The work-from-anywhere culture of the coronavirus pandemic is not going away with vaccines, and that has created an opportunity for small cities to lure new residents. So-called digital nomads are in high demand and are now being offered cash to relocate.
Programs are popping up across the country. The poachers don’t want the workers to quit their jobs, they just want them to do those jobs from somewhere else. New residents will contribute to local spending, pay local taxes and help juice the local housing market.
Almost a year ago, when Covid was at its worst in New York City, Lindsey Marvel packed up her Brooklyn, New York, apartment, bought a car online and drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“You’re just in this survival mode, and I was just terrified,” she said at the time.
A Tulsa nonprofit called Tulsa Remote offers workers $10,000 to move there. They also offer social programs to connect the digital nomads in the program and help them adjust to a new city.
A year later, Marvel said: “It’s been a blessing. I wouldn’t want it any other way, during a pandemic or any other time.
She recently bought a home, thanks to the $10,000 and to the fact that Tulsa is much cheaper than New York City. And the social life is beyond her expectations.
“I think I’ve made more friends in this year, during a pandemic, than I ever had in college or any other time you’re supposed to be connected with many people,” said Marvel.
Tulsa is one of a growing number of cities offering cash incentives to remote workers. There is even a website, MakeMyMove.com, that tracks them.
A new program in West Virginia appears to offer the most. It combines cash and financial incentives equaling $20,000 to people willing to work from there.
Ascend WVA is a $25 million program funded by executive chairman of Intuit and state native Brad Smith, who says he is capitalizing on two new trends.
“The first is a shift towards remote work and the second is a shift in geographic preference to more rural settings, and those happened to intersect perfectly with West Virginia’s most valued assets, which are welcoming communities and our outdoor recreational amenities,” said Smith.
Those communities and amenities are in big demand. Ascend WVA will open later this year with 50 slots, but has already received more than 7,000 applications. The goal over seven years is to attract more than 1,000 new residents, who will bring their purchasing power, while not taking up local jobs.
In addition to Smith’s financial contribution, the state of West Virginia is also supporting the program, through the governor’s office, Department of Tourism and Department of Economist Development. They are making equal investments in amenities like broadband, affordable housing, and the infrastructure required to make these communities welcoming for these remote workers, according to Smith, who said the program could create even more local jobs.
“They’ll have the opportunity to work in co-working facilities with fellow peers, who are also fully employed with companies, and this will start to create synergy, where these individuals can spend in our local communities, they can form relationships and friendships, and maybe down the road they’ll choose to start a business there,” said Smith. “So this doesn’t compete for jobs in West Virginia, this brings fully employed individuals into the state which will strengthen our infrastructure, our economy and our communities.”
It is very similar to what is happening in Tulsa, which started its program well before the pandemic hit. Marvel joked about the spending power of digital nomads, as well as how pricey the housing market is becoming there.
The price of a home in Tulsa is up 11% compared with a year ago, according to Zillow, but it is $147,252, which is well below the national value. Marvel bought her home after renting for a year, and rents are going up as well.
“Because we are from cities like Brooklyn and Seattle, we don’t really have a sense of what we’re supposed to pay for something,” she laughed. “So people are willing to pay a little more.”
Marvel said she does not expect to leave Tulsa anytime soon.
“New York is amazing. It’s the best city in the world, but it’s, you know, it’s gonna be there. I can travel, but I don’t need to be there all the time. I know I made the right decision.”