New State and City ‘Pay to Move’ Programs Attract People—Not Employers

A tourist from New York City visits the Alchemist brewery in Stowe, Vermont. Vermont is trying to tempt tourists into becoming residents, part of an economic development strategy focused on luring new workers, rather than businesses.

A tourist from New York City visits the Alchemist brewery in Stowe, Vermont. Vermont is trying to tempt tourists into becoming residents, part of an economic development strategy focused on luring new workers, rather than businesses. AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

New initiatives starting this month in Vermont and Tulsa are part of a larger trend aimed at attracting workers to places that need to grow.

This story was originally published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

For decades, cities and states have tried to create jobs and boost their economies by luring out-of-state employers. Now some areas are trying to attract workers—one worker at a time.

Starting in January, programs in Vermont and Tulsa, Oklahoma, will pay people to relocate to those places if they work remotely. Other resident recruitment strategies in Florida, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont include weekends that tempt tourists to stay, discounted rent, student loan assistance and free land.

“It’s a departure—very much a sharp departure” from Vermont’s traditional programs, said Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development. “We need people.”

The shift in strategy marks a recognition that as fewer people are tethered to brick-and-mortar offices, state and local officials can reap the benefits of workers’ spending and taxes no matter where their employers are based.

“You need the people to get the businesses to come, and a lot of small places are immediately out of the running because the people aren’t there. It feeds on itself,” said Doug Farquhar, program director for rural development with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Farquhar sees “pay to move” as “somewhat of a desperate plea: We need educated people to come here and stay here.” He cautions that little research has been done on the effectiveness or sustainability of the strategy. And in Vermont, some advocates for the poor have criticized state officials for “luring tech bros to gentrify our communities.”

But in a state that is desperate for more people—Vermont has about 620,000 residents, with about 45 percent of them retired or about to retire—officials are willing to give it a try.

“The original idea was to give incentives to out-of-state companies to find people who want to live here,” said Democratic state Sen. Michael Sirotkin, chairman of the economic development committee. “We decided to give the money to the workers and let them find their jobs.”

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed the Remote Worker Grant Program in May. The legislature provided $500,000 over three years to reimburse expenses of remote workers from other states who relocate.

Each worker can receive up to $10,000 in grants over two years. Eligible expenses include computer software and hardware, internet access and membership in a coworking space.

Tulsa also is focusing on remote workers. Tulsa Remote will pay workers who pass a stringent online screening process and live in Tulsa for a year $10,000 in cash installments. Workers also will receive free membership in a coworking space and housing discounts. The pilot project is funded and administered by the private George Kaiser Family Foundation. No public funds are involved.

Tulsa’s population, about 400,000, has been flat for decades. The foundation was looking for ways to attract new talent to the city, said Executive Director Ken Levit. The foundation has already brought 50 artists and writers to Tulsa for a year or more through the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, which pays stipends and provides free rent.

“There’s no fixed budget” for Tulsa Remote, Levit said. For now, it’s a one-year pilot program, but the overwhelming response means it could be extended, he said. More than 8,000 people have completed lengthy online applications.

Housing Help

Ben Winchester, a rural demographer at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, said people who leave small towns to attend college often want to return to their hometowns when they reach their 30s and 40s. For many of them, the challenge is finding a house.

Harmony, Minnesota, is an example. The Great Recession led to a years-long halt of construction in Harmony, population 1,080. In 2014, the local economic development authority started offering incentives of $5,000 to $12,000 to build houses, depending on the expected taxable value of the building.

Harmony Mayor Steve Donney acknowledged that the program “was very slow to take off.” So far, the town has paid out about $62,750 and has committed to paying out another $20,000 for eight buildings. This year, for the first time, the town has collected some new property tax revenue—about $2,200.

“I’m a 100 percent believer in the project. So far, it’s working,” Donney said. “It has encouraged people to build, and new people are a bonus.”

“One of my questions as mayor is, ‘When do we stop this?’” Donney said. But, he said, other members of the local economic development authority respond, “Why would we stop this?”

Marquette, in central Kansas, also turned to housing incentives after failing to attract businesses.

“Every town is looking to bring in jobs to their small town. You might as well beat your head against a wall,” said Steve Piper, the former longtime mayor. “We took the opposite approach. We thought: Bring the people and tell them to find their own job.” Marquette is within commuting distance of the larger cities Salina, McPherson and Hutchinson.

But Marquette, population 650, had no buildable lots, so the local economic development commission bought 50 acres in 2002 and started giving lots away. The modern-day homesteading story made national news, and hundreds of people contacted the town.

“It helped. A lot of people are looking for a little Mayberry,” Piper said, referring to the fictional town that was the setting for “the Andy Griffith Show.”

About 30 homes have been built in the Westridge Addition area, almost all by people from out of state, and two newcomers started small businesses in town, Piper said. “We still have land to give away, so that’s good.”

Student Loan Help

Student loan assistance programs, modeled on incentives for medical personnel, teachers and lawyers, may be a more promising strategy for rural areas to grow population, NCSL’s Farquhar said.

Two years ago, Maine expanded the opportunity tax credit, which had been limited to graduates of in-state schools, to graduates of out-of-state schools who live and work in Maine.

Maine Gov.-elect Janet Mills, a Democrat, promised in her campaign to simplify the complicated tax credit system and to invest in a “Rural Return Scholarship” to give young people from rural Maine incentive to return to their hometowns.

In Michigan, the Community Foundation in St. Clair County, about an hour north of Detroit, joined nearby counties to start the Come Home Award, a “reverse scholarship” that pays up to $15,000 in student loans over three years.

The foundation gives out about $300,000 a year in traditional scholarships. But donors said, “We’re just paying young people to leave,” said Randy Maiers, the foundation’s executive director. “We wanted to do something different.”

Since 2016, only 13 of the more than 50 applicants have been approved, almost all with recent STEAM degrees — science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. The ideal candidate is someone who has “met someone and wants to settle down and move back home,” Maiers said.

About $45,000 is currently available for the awards, but Maiers warned, “Don’t tell us you’re going to live with mom and dad or ‘I really don’t know what I want to do.’ This is not for everybody.”

Visitors to Residents

States and localities also are looking to turn visitors into residents. Vermont hopes more young professionals and working families among its 13 million tourists a year will relocate, while Tallahassee is reaching out to baby boomers nearing retirement.

Announcing the Stay-to-Stay initiative in March, Vermont’s governor said, “We have about 16,000 fewer workers than we did in 2009. That’s why expanding our workforce is one of the top priorities of my administration.”

Four Vermont communities have sponsored Stay-to-Stay weekends. After a Friday night welcome reception with local leaders, tourists explore the area on their own before meeting Monday morning with entrepreneurs, realtors and potential employers. The Vermont tourism and marketing department is collaborating with local chambers of commerce and young professionals groups on the initiative.

“We literally put on white-glove service,” Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Wendy Knight said. So far, four people have relocated.

One is Jacqueline Posley, a 23-year-old from Mississippi. A recent graduate of Mississippi State University, Posley was working in an office in Starkville when she decided she wanted to live “somewhere cold and liberal.”

Posley and her then-fiance came to a Stay-to-Stay weekend. Her first day back at work in Starkville, she gave notice, and moved to Vermont in September. Her ex-fiance moved to New Hampshire.

But Posley’s story also illustrates some of the challenges that Vermont faces. She is African-American, and Vermont is 93 percent white.

Vermont and other New England states are scrambling to find ways to attract more people of color and help them feel at home. The Vermont tourism department highlights the state’s status as the first to abolish slavery and promotes a trail of African-American historic sites. And the website iamavermonter.org helps people of color connect and tell their stories about moving to and living in Vermont.

Posley found a job as a night auditor working the overnight shift at a ski resort, where she balances the day’s income and expenses and handles the front desk. But she hasn’t settled in yet. She finds Vermont’s housing costs higher than Mississippi’s, and her job pays less than what she made there. She loves seeing the stars at night — but not the 40-minute drive to the laundromat.

And Vermonters are less welcoming than she expected. Someone in a Walmart parking lot yelled at her to go back to where she came from, making her realize that Vermont “is not the liberal utopia it’s portrayed as.”

“I know Vermont wants new people,” Posley said. “They say they want millennials—but I’m a millennial and I’m not willing to commit long term.”

These days, she’s thinking about San Diego.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Erie County, PA offers all local restaurants free digital tools to plan for safe COVID reopening
Erie County, PA, USA
MN Water District and High School Collaborate on Stormwater and Education
Forest Lake, MN, USA
New Parking Plaza Adds Capacity & Embraces Sustainability at San Diego Airport
San Diego, CA, USA

NEXT STORY: Explore Route Fifty’s 2018 Newsmap

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.