In 2018, Tulsa launched a program that offered a $10,000 relocation stipend to remote workers who agreed to move there for one year.
The initiative, called Tulsa Remote, was designed to attract talented digital nomads to the mid-sized Oklahoma city and give them the support they needed to succeed, including access to free coworking spaces, workshops and networking events.
The program’s creators hoped the influx of remote workers would help mitigate the city’s 1,200-person annual migration deficit and replenish the town’s pool of college-educated workers.
Three years later, their plan seems to have worked.
According to Fast Company, Tulsa Remote has lured almost 1,300 digital professionals to the city since its inception.
Further, a study by the Economic Innovation Group found the program generated $13.77 in local labor income for every dollar spent on relocation stipends and injected an estimated $62 million into Tulsa’s economy in 2021.
The study also found that the average Tulsa Remote participant has an annual income of nearly $105,000.
“Remote workers tend to be well paid,” said EIG Research Director Kenan Fikri. “A lot of that money stays in the local economy.”
Other American communities might be tempted to follow Tulsa’s lead and offer financial incentives to attract some of the millions of remote workers that were unleashed during the pandemic. However, EIG researchers said money isn’t the most important factor.
EIG CEO John Lettieri said that “pure signaling alone” is not enough to get incoming digital nomads to settle down long-term. Cities also need to offer ongoing social and networking support that provide remote workers with a sense of community, he said.
In addition, interested cities need to understand their workforce needs and craft programs to attract the type of remote work talent they lack.
“Each community is unique and has to have a unique set of data that they’re monitoring and working through regularly,” said Ben Stewart, who helped design the Tulsa Remote initiative as a senior program officer at the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
That said, Tulsa’s example is enticing for other towns on the hunt for talented, high-earning digital nomads.
“Over 90% stay beyond the year,” said Stewart.