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Cities like Tulsa in Oklahoma are paying people to move there


Many workers now have the ability to work remotely. And cities across the country have been trying to attract these workers with cash and other perks. Zeninjor Enwemeka from NPR's Planet Money podcast reports on how one of those experiments is working out.

ZENINJOR ENWEMEKA, BYLINE: Libryia Jones is big on going to new places. She even started her own travel company, though usually she's thinking about far-flung destinations, that is until a friend told her about a program in Tulsa, Okla., for remote workers. And it was offering money.

LIBRYIA JONES: You'll get $10,000 to come and live in the city. So, you know, that definitely piqued my interest.

ENWEMEKA: That $10,000 was a big incentive. So she applied to the program, which is called Tulsa Remote, and a visit sealed the deal.

JONES: It just felt a lot like home. I just - it felt comfortable. It felt easy.

ENWEMEKA: So Jones left Atlanta and moved to Tulsa last summer. Cities across the country are trying to attract workers like her. They're also offering lots of money and other perks, like free workspace, gym memberships, babysitting services, even home-cooked meals. Many of these programs popped up during the pandemic as more people could work from, well, anywhere. And that's a game changer, according to Raj Choudhury. He's a professor at Harvard Business School who studies remote work.

RAJ CHOUDHURY: For decades, smaller towns in our country have lost talent to the large coastal cities, and now there's an opportunity for talent to flow back and rebuild these communities.

ENWEMEKA: Choudhury says for years, cities competed to attract companies. They'd offer up incentives like, say, tax breaks, all in the hopes of getting some multibillion-dollar company to open up a headquarters or a factory and create lots of jobs. Choudhury says now cities are trying to compete for workers, but do the incentives work?

CHOUDHURY: Honestly, I think that initial incentive is just a headline. It grabs attention. What towns and communities need to do is invest in public infrastructure, in your parks, in your schools, in health care facilities, in these communities. And I think if I were mayor of one of these towns, that would be my priority.

ENWEMEKA: Choudhury says when he studied the Tulsa program, he saw the city invested in developing green spaces, including a 66-acre park with lots of amenities. Tulsa Remote also built up a community of 1,500 remote workers over the past four years, and Jones is a part of that.

So you got $10,000 to move to Tulsa. What did you spend that on?

JONES: I bought a house (laughter). I looked at that as an opportunity to get back into investing and to, you know, reinvest in homeownership.

ENWEMEKA: A recent report shows for every dollar spent relocating someone, the city got back $13 in new income, tax revenue and jobs. Like Jones, she's hired four people.

JONES: So I hired a copywriter to kind of revamp all of my website and all that kind of stuff. I've hired an operations manager. I've also hired a social media marketing person and a photographer. And they're all really great.

ENWEMEKA: People in the Tulsa program are supposed to stay for at least a year. Ninety percent stay longer. Jones isn't sure how long she'll stay, but she's in no rush. Zeninjor Enwemeka, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Zeninjor Enwemeka
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a temporary reporter for Planet Money. Enwemeka has spent several years covering business, tech and culture as well as transportation at Member station WBUR in Boston. She's reported on disparities in mortgage lending, Mexico City's bus system and what US cities can learn from it, and the economic impact of COVID on workers, businesses and entrepreneurs.