The city wants to attract digital nomads.
If you’re a full-time remote worker in the U.S. and are looking for a change, Tulsa, Oklahoma has a deal for you.
It’ll give you a free shared-office space, a subsidized furnished apartment in the city’s Arts District, and $10,000 cash. All you have to do is pack up and move—for at least one year—to Tulsa, a city of just over 400,000 people in the near dead-center of the continental U.S.
Now cities, states, and even countries are exploring ways to attract these workers—who would, presumably, start paying taxes, launch businesses, and otherwise contribute to the economy of wherever they’re drawn to.
Tulsa Remote is one of several revitalization projects in the region funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The Tulsa-based philanthropic organization was started by George B. Kaiser, an oil and banking billionaire who has signed on to Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ “Giving Pledge,” whose wealthy signees promise to give away at least half their fortunes to charity.
The organization has budgeted for 20 new remote workers in the program’s first year, says Ken Levit, GKFF’s executive director. Applicants must be at least 18, eligible to work in the U.S., already working full-time for an employer based outside the boundaries of Tulsa County, and prepared to move to Tulsa within six months. Applications opened Tuesday at the website TulsaRemote.com; the city hopes to settle the first new residents within the next three months, Levit said.
Tulsa’s economy had been heavily dependent on energy, and the slump in oil prices at the end of late 2015 hit Tulsa hard. By January 2016, Oklahoma lost 13,000 energy jobs statewide. In September the city’s unemployment rate was 3 percent, below the U.S. national rate of 3.7 percent, but the area still struggles with pockets of poverty and an underfunded public-education system. Tulsa Remote is an attempt to attract talent to a small city that might otherwise go overlooked by educated new graduates or entrepreneurs looking for an affordable home base, Levit says.
“You roll the dice a little bit and you get the right person whose going to start a company, create beautiful works of art, or run for office in a few years,” Levit says. “We’re looking for combination of wanderlust and roots.”
Vermont announced the launch of a similar program earlier this year but hasn’t started accepting applications, and there isn’t anything else to which Tulsa Remote compares in the U.S. Clearly, 20 new taxpaying professionals per year can’t on their own reverse systemic problems like struggling schools or volatile energy prices. But they may bring enough ideas and productivity to make Tulsa’s investment worthwhile.
“There is real value in having people get together. People are generally more productive when they get together” in cities, said Stephan Weiler, an economics professor and director of the Regional Economic Development Institute at Colorado State University. What “towns like Tulsa [are doing], those aren’t dumb ideas.”