Dozens of cities are offering up to $16,000 in cash incentives, homebuying allowances, tax credits and money toward local goods and services in hopes of enticing pandemic movers to relocate there. MakeMyMove.com, an online directory launched in December 2020, aims to connect remote workers with such offers around the country.
City- and statewide workforce development groups have long incentivized new residents to move there, often by offering tax breaks and loan forgiveness when they buy a home. But with the pandemic spurring a wider acceptance of remote work, plus a greater affinity for physical space beyond dense urban areas, these programs are pushing recruitment into overdrive.
Around 8.9 million people already moved between March and October 2020, up by 94,000 people from the year prior, and young professionals are the group most likely to relocate during the pandemic.
Down payment money, free memberships, gift cards: What cities are offering
MakeMyMove currently lists 37 relocation offers on its pages, some through paid promotions and others for free. Each destination has its own page listing the incentive programs on offer, how much they're worth, who qualifies and how to apply.
Some offers, such as for Las Vegas or for San Juan, Puerto Rico, don't list a definitive dollar value but say that the city's local government offers "various amenities" for new residents.
Many others list specific homebuying grants, tax breaks, annual memberships to local co-working spaces, and money to spend at small businesses including restaurants, gyms, shops and other services.
For example, Baltimore, Maryland, will pay $5,000 toward your down payment on a new home there, while in The Shoals in northwest Alabama, you can get $10,000 in cash over the course of a year if you're accepted into its relocation program.
And at the high end, one of the most generous offers comes from the southwest Michigan area, 90 miles from Chicago, where new Michigan residents can get a $15,000 forgivable grant, over the course of three years, after buying a home in a qualifying zip code. Newcomers can also choose from additional perks like a free gym membership, co-working space membership or transit pass for a year.
The site also has a "Design Your Own" feature where remote workers can list their ideal location as well as relocation incentive package. MakeMyMove cofounder Evan Hock says his team can then talk to local economic development programs to create new opportunities where there is demand.
"For example, if we get a half dozen folks saying, 'I'm looking for a lake community in the Southeast,' we can go out, find it and negotiate an offer for them," Hock says. "It's a way for us to collect data and see opportunities to find a specific landing spot for each remote worker."
Who's moving where
Hock says hundreds of users have visited since the site's launch, and they're now at the stage of helping facilitate a few people's actual moves.
So far, users tend to be in expensive coastal areas in California and New York, and often work in technology, marketing and sales, though Hock says office workers across industries are represented in their user base. Beyond the immediate threats of the pandemic, many have said they want to move now in order to be closer to family, to have more space to start their own, to enjoy a more affordable cost of living or because they want to be surrounded by amenities not offered in a big city, like trails, lakes and the outdoors.
Hock adds one of the more popular incentive programs so far has been in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which recently ran a campaign to recruit software engineers by offering $10,000 toward a new home and $1,250 toward moving expenses.
Generally, people who are able to work remotely are highly educated and highly compensated — all the more reason why small communities are eager to bring them in. "Bringing a software engineer into a community can bring hundreds of thousands in economic development directly to the region," Hock says.
Another popular program listed on MakeMyMove is the Tulsa Remote initiative, which launched in 2018 and offers applicants $10,000 to move to Tulsa for a year, along with perks like apartment specials, co-working memberships, lunch-and-learn lectures and social activities. Tulsa Remote says it's brought 600 people into the city, 90% of whom stay beyond their 12-month commitment.
More relocation incentives could be coming
Hock says the majority of offers on MakeMyMove are new initiatives created in the past year of the pandemic and that "interest in these programs has exploded," which he and other experts believe will continue after the pandemic. According to Pew Research Center data, four in 10 people say they can do the majority of their job from home. Of this group, just over half want to continue working remotely most of the time after the pandemic, and one-third would like a hybrid arrangement between working from home and an office.
Hock also sees potential for more cities and communities to attract new talent through relocation incentives in the months to come.
"For decades, communities offered these incentives to companies to recruit them, to get the Amazons of world to go there," Hock says. "Now they're tweaking their mindsets and offering incentives directly to consumers.
"When you recruit a new worker into the community," Hock continues, "you get their tax revenues, their spending in the local economy. As communities dig into the math, they'll see these remote workers are enormously valuable."
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