Foundations offer cities to help convince workers to move | WGN 720 radio

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A year ago, Robin Bruce never would have thought that she would live in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and love it. That was before she took advantage of a program, largely funded by the Walton Family Foundation, that offers $ 10,000 incentives to attract new residents to the Ozarks.

Bruce, a singer, visual artist and writer, was eligible for the financial incentive because Fayetteville understands that strengthening its cultural vitality is essential to attracting more residents to the area, which is in desperate need of meeting growing demand for technologies and other skilled skills. workers.

Entrepreneurs who want to build or expand their businesses and create jobs for the area and people who can do their jobs from anywhere – a growing segment of the workforce – are also eligible for the $ 10,000 incentives. .

“I’ve never experienced anything like I live here in terms of funding and casual relationships,” Bruce said.

The effort in Northwest Arkansas is one of a growing number of philanthropy-funded projects that attempt to spur economic development, promote civic and cultural life, attract skilled workers, and compensate declining or sparse populations.

Remote workers are particularly attractive because they tend to have high disposable income. They are also much less expensive to attract for cities and towns, given the requirements of businesses when considering relocation. Companies often want skilled worker guarantees, tax breaks or other government subsidies.

As foundations and donors poured out money to attract workers to their areas before the pandemic, interest in the idea is spreading. Boosted by the flexibility of workers discovered during quarantine, experts estimate that the number of people who no longer need to work in offices will double in the coming years.

In Tulsa, the George Kaiser Family Foundation pioneered the financial incentive approach in 2018. Almost 50,000 people have applied since the program began. There was a 300% increase in applications after March 2020. Since its launch, Tulsa Remote has had 1,000 attendees and is on track to fill 750 slots this year.

Participants are required to stay one year to keep the $ 10,000 incentive, and 90% of people who moved to Tulsa stayed there after the one year requirement. The Kaiser Foundation has invested $ 4 million in Tulsa Remote to give remote workers and others an incentive to relocate to the city.

“We are honored that so many people have tried to replicate what we do at Tulsa Remote,” wrote Ben Stewart, executive director of Tulsa Remote and senior program manager at the Kaiser Foundation, in an email.

Some places borrowing elements of the Kaiser-Tulsa Remote approach are Ascend WV in West Virginia, Remote Tucson, and Movers & Shakas in Hawaii.

Tulsa participants moved from large states including California, New York and Texas. Most applicants for Ascend WV and Life Works Here, the Northwest Arkansas program, are also people who live in large states or metropolitan areas. Applicants for all three programs said they were drawn to the lower cost of living, a slower pace, quality of life, and a desire to be part of the mission of self-improvement or reinvention of a region – not just the cash incentive.

Last year, Brad Smith, a native of West Virginia turned Silicon Valley executive, and his wife, Alys, donated $ 25 million to Ascend WV to fund cash incentives for people moving to its home state and to cover the cost of developing outdoor recreation. option. He said the program was designed to attract “digital nomads”, many of whom are drawn to outdoor activities.

Smith, a former CEO of Intuit, wrote in an email that “philanthropy can be a catalyst for innovation” and that he provided the money because he thinks it’s important to help them. cities to take a risk on new efforts like Ascend WV.

Life Works Here received $ 1.5 million from the Walton Fund largely at the behest of Tom and Steuart Walton, grandsons of Helen and Sam Walton, who started in Arkansas what has become the Walmart Empire.

Launched in 2020, Life Works Here plans to accept 100 program participants by fall, of which 35 have been selected. About 30,000 applied. Participants are required to stay for one year to retain the full $ 10,000 incentive.

Meanwhile, Smith is among those who hope Ascend WV will help reverse the decline in the state’s population, which fell about 3.3% from 2010 to 2020, to around 1.8 million, according to census data.

Ascend WV will choose its first 50 participants from 7,500 applicants. The first participants will move to Morgantown. Participants are required to stay two years to retain the full $ 12,000 incentive.

With strong demand and generous funding, said Smith, Ascend WV’s goal is to attract 1,000 remote workers to the state over the next three to five years, bringing them together in groups of 25 to 50 at a time “so that they are able to form new social relationships, get to know the area and settle down.

All programs aim to retain new residents by providing them with opportunities to connect with other participants and get involved with local nonprofits. Building such connections is crucial for retention, supporters of the program said.

About 3% of workers worked full-time remotely before the pandemic, said Brent Meyer, policy adviser and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, citing the Fed’s Business Uncertainty Survey of Atlanta, the Chicago Booth School of Business, and Stanford University.

That figure is expected to double to 6%, or around 7.4 million workers, as companies continuously adjust their policies as the pandemic abates, Meyer said.

Stewart said the foundation had no hesitation in funding the program because executives were confident the city could attract remote workers, particularly with a boost of $ 10,000. Tulsa has seen many redevelopments including the Tulsa Arts District and the Gathering Place, a riverside park.

Edna Martinson and her husband, Clarence Tan, contributed not only their jobs but also a business. They are co-founders of Boddle Learning, an educational technology company, with remote staff, which moved to Tulsa from Kansas City in August 2020. They were drawn to an entrepreneurial ecosystem that includes a free co-working space and access to investors who can provide venture capital.

“Then we found out it could all cost $ 10,000,” she said. “Impressive!”

The move to Tulsa has been good for Boddle Learning and arguably for the city. Since moving, the company, which had 11 full-time employees, has hired a local employee, and another new hire is scheduled for Tulsa from the UK this fall.

All three programs strongly select applicants to ensure cities are suitable for them. This approach helps with retention, said Danny Twilley, associate dean of the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, who runs Ascend WV in partnership with the West Virginia Tourism Office.

“We want people who want to be part of the community,” he said. “They understand West Virginia. They believe in West Virginia.

Bruce, the artist who moved to Fayetteville, said she moved to the city even before finding out about Life Works Here and the remote worker incentive. She had applied to the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and had come to visit us.

She was thrilled to see an affordable rent of $ 700 for a two-bedroom apartment instead of $ 1,800 for a similar unit in Boulder.

“Space is so important for creativity, and I’m not just talking about physical space,” she said. “There is also the financial space. “

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Olivera Perkins is a senior writer at The Chronicle. Email: [email protected] The AP and The Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropic coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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