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Lessons from a Leading Remote Work Incentive in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The rise of remote work provides new opportunities for many communities across the country to rethink how they compete for skilled workers. Tulsa Remote, one of the nation’s first and largest remote worker relocation initiatives, has brought more than 1,200 remote workers to the city since 2018 by offering a $10,000 grant and additional support services to eligible workers who move to Tulsa to live and work remotely from there for at least one year. 

The economic challenges facing Tulsa, OK, are familiar to many Heartland communities and include slow and inconsistent population growth, difficulty attracting and retaining highly-educated workers, and lagging growth in high-tech, high-wage industries and jobs. Tulsa Remote responds to these challenges by targeting highly-educated individuals in their prime working years with critical skills in in-demand sectors: the average income of program members was just over $104,600; fully 88 percent of program members have at least a bachelor’s degree; and nearly one-third of members work in the knowledge-intensive information or professional and scientific services industries. Deployed at scale, the goal is that the program will allow the city to diversify its human capital base even before a corresponding job necessarily exists in the local economy.  

An economic impact analysis from the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) found the first program cohort was responsible for generating millions in new local earnings and bringing hundreds of new jobs to Tulsa in 2021. The analysis illustrates how such initiatives, designed well and deployed in the right context, may play a potent role in local economic development strategies and help level the playing field in the national competition for talent in the years ahead.

Early evidence suggests Tulsa Remote is generating real economic impact locally

Considering only the Tulsa Remote program members present at the start of 2021, Tulsa Remote is estimated to…

  • Add $62.0 million in new local earnings in 2021—$51.3 million directly attributable to relocated remote workers and $10.7 million from the employment boost generated in the local economy. 
  • Support approximately 592 jobs in 2021—394 jobs directly attributable to relocated remote workers and approximately 198 newly created full-time equivalent jobs based in Tulsa.

Which means that in 2021…  

  • There is an estimated $13.77 boost in new local labor income for every dollar spent toward relocating a remote worker.
  • On average, approximately one new job was created in Tulsa for every two remote workers who relocated.

Tulsa Remote has already grown significantly since the start of 2021 and intends to build upon these economic impacts and expand further in the years ahead. On its current growth trajectory, in 2025, the Tulsa Remote program is estimated to…

  • Add approximately $500 million in new local earnings.
  • Support upwards of 5,000 high-impact jobs, including thousands of relocated remote workers and at least 1,500 newly created full-time equivalent local jobs.

Tulsa Remote’s early returns offer lessons for other places considering similar strategies

Covid-19 further accelerated the untethering of home from the workplace for a large share of the labor market, opening new opportunities for cities to attract a workforce to fuel local economic growth. As an early pioneer that leaned into the rise of remote working even before the pandemic, Tulsa Remote was well-positioned to take advantage of the transformation of American work-life that has happened since.

Many factors make Tulsa Remote unique, including its large scale, its sponsorship through a local foundation, and its backdrop in a mid-sized city that has put place-making and quality of life at the heart of its economic development strategy. 

However, even for an initiative with solid theoretical foundations and strong early returns, the program’s long-term economic impact is still to be determined. The success of the initiative moving forward will be mediated by four primary factors: retention and growth, intensifying competition with other places as more regions adopt similar strategies, local community support, and the extent to which the program is able to contribute to the city’s long-term economic transformation. For Tulsa—and any community considering such an approach to economic development—there are several fundamental questions that must be asked when considering the potential success of a remote work incentive: 

  • How does the community bring remote workers and ensure that they stay?
  • How can the initiative stand out in the face of competing remote worker programs?
  • How can the community ensure that local institutions and community members buy into the initiative?
  • Will newly attracted remote workers live up to expectations and eventually go on to form the base of a new local knowledge economy?

Remote worker incentives are no panacea for places struggling to attract workers or modernize their local economies. However, the early evidence from one of the nation’s leading remote worker initiatives suggests that well-designed programs have the potential to deliver significant returns—especially when aligned with broader local or regional development strategies.

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