Drowning in student loans? Tired of being house poor? Sick of sitting in bottleneck traffic every day?
Several states and communities are stepping up to attract workers with offers of financial incentives and a more equitable work/life balance.
Maine wants to pay off your student loans. Baltimore will help cover your down payment. And Tulsa will hand over $10,000 in cash, help pay rent, and provide a workspace.
Whether it’s a rural area desperate for a workforce, a city trying to attract young professionals, or a midsize community looking to tap into the remote-worker niche, more places are willing to pay up to make it happen.
And so far, the plans are working. More than 9,000 people filled out the lengthy application for the Tulsa Remote program, which will soon be selecting its first grant recipients – all of whom will be full-time remote workers. Vermont, which has a similar program for remote workers, also has been inundated with interest.
“When we announced the program, we were pretty overwhelmed by the reaction,’’ said Ken Levit, executive director of the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation, a private nonprofit funding the initiative. “We know the interest is enormously high. It has tapped into something out there.’’
He said workers from all over the country and many overseas applied to relocate to this heartland city of roughly 400,000 known for its arts and cultural institutions. There is a large pool from the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, and about 50 from Massachusetts, he added.
Levit said the foundation had previously provided housing stipends and studio space to artists and writers. Many of those grant recipients have remained in Tulsa, leading officials to believe that there is a “stickiness’’ to the city.
They hope to build upon that program to help diversify the community and boost the economy, Levit said. And while the financial incentive may be what attracts them, Levit hopes Tulsa’s affordability and lifestyle will keep them there.
“Brainstorming over a table, we developed this idea that there are large numbers of people, young people who could work anywhere, who might feel overwhelmed by the cost and hassle of metropolitan areas on the East Coast, and maybe we could create a nudge to convince people to give Tulsa a try,’’ Levit said.
Tulsa’s program is just getting off the ground, but Baltimore has been offering incentives for several years, primarily around homeownership. Live Baltimore is an organization set up to help potential residents navigate the various financial incentives funded by the city and employers, ranging from down payment assistance to home renovation tax credits.
“Historically, we’re a city that understands the value of homeowners,’’ said Annie Milli, executive director of Live Baltimore, which works to recruit and retain residents. “We as a city recognize that homeowners are invested in their community and contribute greatly to their community. Homeownership is a way to stabilize finances and build wealth, and that’s something our city has always wanted to support.’’
On Jan. 26, Live Baltimore is hosting a trolley tour, during which participants take a narrated visit of 10-plus neighborhoods, meet with real estate professionals and community organizations, sit in on expert-led workshops, and become eligible for $5,000 toward the purchase of a home anywhere in the city through the Buying Into Baltimore incentive program. It’s a lottery system, and the percentage of applicants who received an incentive in fall 2016 was 85 percent. In spring 2016, however, it was 60 percent.
“The programs are very popular,’’ Milli said. “We see people accessing our resources from almost every state in the United States and overseas, especially people moving from more expensive cities like San Francisco, New York, or Boston.’’
Milli said Baltimore has all the big-city amenities without the high price tag. It offers park-front homes, history, convenience, and affordability, she said.
“It’s not just that you are living in Baltimore, you can actually live in Baltimore and do more than just pay your mortgage, and that’s meaningful,’’ Milli said.
But if urban living isn’t for you, look no further than Vacationland. Maine recently started offering tax credits to help new residents and recent graduates pay off student loans.
The program was initially offered only to graduates of Maine colleges and universities who remained in the state to work, but it has been expanded to any graduate who moves to Maine, gets a job, and has student loans.
Nate Wildes, engagement director of Live + Work in Maine, said the state and employers had to do something to boost the dwindling workforce. He said the number of people filing for the credit has skyrocketed since 2015, when the private sector launched Live + Work Maine to help promote the state program.
“We’re not bribing people, saying here’s 5,000 bucks,’’ Wildes said. “Come to Maine and have faith that Maine employers will have a quality job for you. Make your student loan payments, and at the end of the year after you’ve added value to the workforce, we will reimburse you all the payments. It’s powerful in that it’s not a huge risk for the state. It’s money already produced in the economy.’’
Wildes said 36 million people visit Maine each year but just 1.2 million live there. He wants to persuade those visitors to stay year round. In fact, some employers will pay for the cost of a vacation if someone decides to move after visiting.
“Thirty-six million come to us because we have the best product for quality of life,’’ Wildes said. “We just have to help them connect the dots. You love your vacation, here’s an opportunity to love your career at the same time.’’
Vermont also hopes to tap into a group of people looking for a better quality of life. The state is launching a program in January that will pay remote workers $10,000 over two years to move there. About 3,000 people have requested information, but there is only enough funding in the first year to award 25 grants worth $5,000 each.
Joan Goldstein, commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Economic Development, said the grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The goal, Goldstein said, is to increase the state’s population and help broaden the tax base. Remote workers were targeted, she said, because they are mobile.
“It seems like a small amount, but in a small state, every little bit counts,’’ she said. “They may bring other family members, they are spending money, they are telling their friends about it. It’s a little bit of a test. If it’s successful, perhaps we can do it in a bigger way.’’
Tulsa’s program also targets remote workers, but doesn’t cap the number of awardees. The funding is provided by a private foundation, so the money isn’t as limited, Levit said. Tulsa also has an application process, during which potential residents will be screened and ranked.
Levit said only those applicants who meet the foundation’s criteria will be selected. He said they are looking for people who are excited to move, interested in putting down roots, and looking to contribute to the community.
“If there are 100 people who are gung-ho about moving here and will contribute to our community, then I’d like to try to reach an agreement with 100 people,’’ he said. “We will let the opportunity drive the budget.’’