Remote Employees Can Stay Anywhere. These Cities (and Small Cities) Are Luring Them With Perks.

Shara Gaona didn’t know a lot about Topeka when the pandemic struck. But the remote-working United Airlines analyst, untethered from her Chicago workplace, determined to maneuver to the Kansas capital and accumulate $10,000 in native authorities incentives.

Topeka is on a rising record of areas—from Bemidji, Minn., to the state of West Virginia—dangling incentives to entice distant staff. Many firms are providing office-free jobs, and a few staff are prepared to relocate for money, cheaper housing or different perks.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘What the hell are you doing in Topeka?’ ” Ms. Gaona stated. “Well, they’re giving me $10,000.”

The 41-year-old offered her Chicago condominium early this yr, and she or he and her fiancé, Matt Gordon, are renovating a home in Topeka they plan to maneuver to quickly. The couple, who had office-based jobs at

United Airlines Holdings Inc.

UAL -0.73%

earlier than the pandemic, can proceed working remotely, Ms. Gaona stated.

Similar incentive applications existed earlier than the Covid-19 pandemic, together with in Vermont and Tulsa, Okla., whereas others have been within the works. But they began sprouting up shortly after Covid-19 shut down conventional workplaces, together with a Paducah, Ky., program that launched in August.

Shara Gaona and her fiancé, Matt Gordon, are within the means of shifting to Topeka after leaving Chicago. They plan to proceed working remotely for United Airlines, as they’ve for the reason that pandemic started.


Christopher Smith for the Wall Street Journal

Ms. Gaona offered her condominium in Chicago and plans to maneuver in to a brand new residence in Topeka as soon as renovations are full.


Christopher Smith for the Wall Street Journal

In addition to monetary presents, some locations are providing further perks, like a free yr at a co-working area in Bemidji, free espresso and martial arts courses in Stillwater, Okla., and backed rafting and mountain climbing in West Virginia. A brand new program in Greensburg, Ind., features a couple on the town who provided to function “grandparents on demand” to assist with babysitting and Grandparents Day in school. In Topeka, the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s had kicked in $1,000 for distant staff who moved to one among its native supply zones, although this promotion simply ended, in line with an economic-development spokesman.

These incentive applications mark a shift from an older economic-development mannequin: attempting to steer firms, slightly than people, to relocate. In some instances, communities say they’re hurting extra for folks than for jobs. They additionally hope an inflow of expert staff will make them look extra interesting to massive employers. It can be arduous to not be a part of the fray.

“Is this the new arms race? I would say yes,” stated Justin Minges, chief govt at Stillwater’s chamber of commerce.

An Indianapolis-based firm known as MakeMyMove debuted a web site in December that acts as an inventory web site and portal for such incentive applications. The firm stated there are actually at the very least 24 applications particularly concentrating on distant staff within the U.S., together with 19 launched for the reason that pandemic started. The firm additionally acts as a paid marketing consultant to assist create a few of these applications.

Cash funds can have necessities pegged to folks staying a sure period of time or making sufficient cash, and greater paychecks can imply larger funds. Topeka pays $10,000 to residence patrons making at the very least $60,000, however much less to these with decrease salaries. Officials with a number of applications say they consider that paying to draw folks with high-salary jobs will repay because the movers spend of their new communities.

A farmers market in downtown Topeka.


Christopher Smith for the Wall Street Journal

Officials working these applications are betting the U.S. won’t ever utterly return to pre-pandemic workplace life. Remote job listings within the U.S. with salaries topping $80,000 reached about 15% of all job listings within the third quarter of this yr, up from about 13% within the prior quarter and 4% in late 2019, earlier than the pandemic began, in line with Ladders Inc., which runs the job web site

“This is a real, structural permanent change in the American workforce,” stated Ladders CEO Marc Cenedella.

While the cellular workforce grows, so does the competitors. Stillwater, a metropolis of 48,000 folks, has to date made presents to 4 folks after launching a program in July that makes use of metropolis funding to supply $5,000 in home-buying help. No one has moved but, and at the very least two of those candidates are weighing different incentive applications, in line with the chamber of commerce.

One is Torin Dougherty, a 27-year-old

3M Co.

worker in Minneapolis, who plans to go to Stillwater for the primary time this weekend. But he may apply to some different applications, together with in Tulsa and a regional program protecting a part of Alabama, he stated. He’s going to go to Tulsa, too, after every week and a half in Stillwater.

Torin Dougherty, 27 years previous, is weighing varied choices as he makes plans to take his completely distant job with him to a brand new metropolis.


Ackerman + Gruber for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Dougherty constructed a spreadsheet to rank municipalities he’s contemplating making his new residence, primarily based on elements from monetary incentives to entry to outside actions.


Ackerman + Gruber for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Dougherty has made a spreadsheet to rank the varied locations, evaluating them on fields like presentation on their web sites, size of purposes and entry to actions like looking and fishing. He’s weighing not simply the cash, but in addition alternatives to assist construct the applications and put a stamp on the local people, he stated. If he have been to maneuver to Stillwater, he would first hire a spot to reside, and is speaking to the chamber of commerce about potential rental help.

The San Francisco native has spent most of his life in California and Minnesota, and stated he needs to expertise extra of the nation.

“It’s really important for your own experience to see what else is out there,” Mr. Dougherty stated.

Wish You Were Here

Some of the incentives out there to distant staff who transfer to chose locales:

Topeka, Kan.

Incentives embrace: Up to $10,000 in money, with the very best quantity out there to residence patrons making at the very least $60,000, and lesser quantities for decrease salaries and renters.

Requirements: Applicants have to return from outdoors Topeka and Shawnee County, should keep a yr or cash might be clawed again. Minimum wage for program is $35,000.

Bemidji, Minn.

Incentives embrace: Up to $2,500 in reimbursement for bills equivalent to shifting, one-year membership at co-working area and chamber of commerce, a “Community Concierge” program to introduce new arrivals to the group.

Requirements: Applicants should come from at the very least 60 miles away.

West Virginia

Incentives embrace: $12,000 in money, with $10,000 paid over the primary 12 months and $2,000 after a second yr. Other perks embrace free co-working area and a yr of free outside recreation, with the overall incentive bundle valued at greater than $20,000, in line with this system.

Requirements: Applicants should come from out of state and take part in interviews. Program is at present geared toward bringing folks to the cities of Morgantown and Lewisburg, with a 3rd group to be added subsequent yr.

Stillwater, Okla.

Incentives embrace: $5,000 towards a house buy inside metropolis limits, estimated $2,000 in free espresso for a yr from a neighborhood firm, free martial arts courses, different presents from native shops and eating places by way of the chamber of commerce.

Requirements: Requires a job with full-time work from home, however chamber says hybrid staff who commute may be eligible.

The Shoals (Alabama)

Incentives embrace: A reimbursement of as much as $10,000 primarily based on wage, with the very best quantity paying to individuals who make above $124,800.

Requirements: Salary of at the very least $52,000, staying within the area a yr to gather the complete quantity.

Several communities say early demand is robust. Tulsa’s three-year previous program has already introduced in additional than 1,100 folks. A two-county Alabama program in a area dubbed the Shoals has obtained roughly 1,800 purposes since launching in mid-2019. So far 71 newcomers have arrived. The screening course of there requires ensuring candidates meet {qualifications}, equivalent to wage and employment necessities. Program directors additionally interview candidates to verify they perceive the group, together with that they might be shifting to an space with small cities, the place they may depend on a automobile and never public transit.

“We don’t want someone to move here and regret it,” stated Mackenzie Cottles, a spokeswoman for the Shoals Economic Development Authority, which runs this system.

This Alabama program is funded to date with about $600,000 by a half-cent in gross sales taxes already collected to cowl financial improvement, Ms. Cottles stated. Payments to folks shifting in can attain as much as $10,000 relying on wage.

In West Virginia, a program providing as much as $12,000 in money together with outdoorsy perks has netted 50 distant staff and one other 60 members of the family, although not all have moved but. Launched in April, it’s funded by a $25 million present from Brad Smith, a local of the state and govt chairman at TurboTax maker Intuit Inc., and his spouse Alys.

The program is at present geared toward sending folks to the cities of Morgantown and Lewisburg. The program is sponsoring a picnic and kayaking occasion for current relocators this weekend.

Quintina Mengyan, 29, director of buyer expertise at Chicago-based ticket market Vivid Seats, moved to Morgantown along with her boyfriend in August. West Virginia was new to her, however she has already added a aspect job teaching lacrosse at West Virginia University. She additionally stated she has significantly more room to work in a brand new townhouse, the place she has a devoted workplace.

In Chicago, Ms. Mengyan stated, workplace closures “quickly evolved to me feeling suffocated in a 618-square-foot apartment with my boyfriend and 80-pound dog.”

Paying to lure new residents has drawn some skeptics. In Vermont, some lawmakers have questioned whether or not funds are actually the deciding issue when folks transfer there, although its applications have paid out cash for lots of of people that moved to the state, together with recipients and their members of the family. Lawmakers this yr re-funded this system but in addition known as for a examine on its effectiveness.

“I can see where this is going to end up going to people who were going to move to a community anyway,” stated Tessa Conroy, an assistant professor on the University of Wisconsin-Madison who research financial improvement. “Or maybe you do manage to attract someone. Is that really the ideal resident, someone who was paid?”

Communities also needs to spend money on protecting individuals who already reside there, and who could be disgruntled to see cash spent on luring newcomers, Ms. Conroy stated.

Jack Calcutt, who manages a world gross sales workforce for financial-information agency

FactSet Research Systems Inc.

and used to work from a Norwalk, Conn., workplace, obtained Topeka’s incentive for taking his job and household, together with six kids, there in late 2020. The household would have gone anyway, he stated, as his spouse is from the world. They had lengthy thought of shifting there and he instantly had the prospect to take his job on the street.

But the household can be grateful for the assist, and Topeka has confirmed to be a wonderful match, Mr. Calcutt stated. “It feels like Topeka wants me here, and that gives me a degree of loyalty for the community,” he stated.

Jack and Katie-Scarlett Calcutt accepted Topeka’s incentive to maneuver from Connecticut with their six kids—and Mr. Calcutt’s distant job.


Christopher Smith for the Wall Street Journal

‘It feels like Topeka wants me here,’ Mr. Calcutt stated, calling town a wonderful match for his sprawling household.


Christopher Smith for the Wall Street Journal

The metropolis of 127,000 and surrounding county first launched an incentive program in late 2019, geared toward serving to native firms fill jobs. They added remote-worker incentives final yr.


If you moved to work remotely through the pandemic, how did you determine the place to go? Join the dialog under.

The program, with funding to cowl roughly 15 to twenty new distant staff a yr, has fielded some 535 purposes because it rolled out in August of 2020 and accepted 19 distant staff, in line with Bob Ross, a spokesman for the native economic-development company. Requirements embrace proof of employment outdoors the native county; if a recipient doesn’t keep a yr, this system can claw the cash again.

Ms. Gaona is quickly residing in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula whereas organizing renovations on her Topeka home. She stated she welcomed the change from Chicago however has some considerations about life in a smaller metropolis, together with issues like easy accessibility to a fitness center and grocery retailer.

“We don’t have to stay forever,” she stated. “But if we like it, we can.”

Write to Jon Kamp at

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