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Smokestack Chasing, Would You Move to Tulsa OK or Greensburg IN?

Incentives like free office space and free child care draw high-paid tech workers able to work anywhere to smaller towns.
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Image courtesy of MakeMyMove

Image courtesy of MakeMyMove

In a new version of "smokestack chasing", 71 Cities and Towns Are Paying Tech Workers to Abandon Silicon Valley. And it's working says the Wall Street Journal.

Back in October there were at least 24 such programs in the U.S. Today there are 71, according to the Indianapolis-based company MakeMyMove, which is contracted by cities and towns to set up such programs.

Because these programs specifically target remote workers who have high wages, a disproportionate share of those who are taking advantage of them work in tech—and especially for big tech companies. Companies whose employees have participated in one remote worker incentive program in Tulsa, Okla., include Adobe, Airbnb, Amazon, AMZN, Apple, AAPL, Dell, Facebook parent Meta Platforms, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Lyft, Netflix, Oracle and Siemens, according to a spokeswoman for the organization.

Some of those companies are perfectly happy with this turn of events. In April, Airbnb said nearly all of its employees could work anywhere they liked, and retain their full salaries. It’s even promoting its product as a way for remote workers to find temporary housing, says a spokeswoman for the company.

Tulsa Remote, the biggest of these programs by the number of people it has brought in, has a distinct advantage over most: It’s funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in and focused on Tulsa, which spent $181 million on a variety of initiatives in 2020 alone. Almost all of America’s comparable programs must be paid out of local economic-development budgets.

By the end of 2021, Tulsa Remote had brought 1,360 people to the city. By the end of 2022, the total could be more than 2,400.

“This is the new version of smokestack chasing,” says Roy Bahat, head of the Bloomberg Beta venture-capital firm and a former economic-development official for New York City. “Smokestack chasing” refers to local governments’ bidding against one another to try to attract a factory, office or some other kind of infrastructure that will create jobs. “It’s like what Ohio did when it attracted a microchip factory,” he adds, referring to the more than $2 billion in incentives the state promised Intel to convince the company to locate its factory in the state.

Work Incentives in Tulsa

The Economic Innovation Group says Remote Work Incentive is Responding to Local Challenges and Spurring Economic Growth in Tulsa, OK

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.

Early evidence suggests Tulsa Remote is generating real economic impact locally.

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.

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.

In attracting 1,200 remote workers, Tulsa Remote added another 592 jobs that it attributes to the program. 

MakeMyMove

MakeMyMove Incentives

MakeMyMove says Do What You Love, From a Place That You Love

Airbnb Welcomes the Move

On April 28, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky sent an email to employees around the globe welcoming them to work anywhere

Team,

Two years ago, the world was turned upside down. Our offices closed and we found ourselves working from our bedrooms, basements, and home offices. Despite everything, we had the most productive two-year period in our history. While it’s been an incredible two years for Airbnb, I know it’s been hard on many of you.

Today, we’re turning the page to the start of a new chapter. I’m excited to share our design for where and how we’ll work together going forward.

We started this process by asking a simple question—where is the world going?

The answer is obvious—the world is becoming more flexible about where people can work. We see this in our own business. We wouldn’t have recovered so quickly from the pandemic had it not been for millions of people working from Airbnbs. During the second half of 2021, 20% of our nights booked were for stays of longer than a month, and half were for stays of longer than a week.

Two decades ago, Silicon Valley startups popularized the idea of open floor plans and on-site perks, which were soon adopted by companies all around the world. Similarly, today’s startups have embraced remote work and flexibility, and I think this will become the predominant way that we all work 10 years from now. This is where the world is going.

We then asked, what are we solving for?

We want to hire and retain the best people in the world (like you). If we limited our talent pool to a commuting radius around our offices, we would be at a significant disadvantage. The best people live everywhere, not concentrated in one area. And by recruiting from a diverse set of communities, we will become a more diverse company.

Now, I understand the anxiety of not seeing people in an office—how do you know if your employees are doing their jobs when you can’t see them? For me, it’s simple: I trust you, and flexibility only works when you trust the people on your team. You’ve shown how much you can accomplish remotely. In the last two years, we navigated the pandemic, rebuilt the company from the ground up, went public, upgraded our entire service, and reported record earnings, all while working remotely. It’s clear that flexibility works for Airbnb.

Anywhere Means Anywhere

The memo also said "You can move anywhere in the country you work in and your compensation won’t change. Starting in September, you can live and work in over 170 countries for up to 90 days a year in each location."

Open floor plans in offices have morphed into no floor plans and work anywhere.

The Appeal 

The Tulsa metro population is over 780,000. I can see that. But Greensburg, Indiana, population 11,221? 

One Amazon engineer moved to Greensburg. The WSJ noted that he got $5,000 from the city, a year of free office space, gym membership and babysitting for his children, ages 1 and 3.

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In general, work anywhere and incentive programs would appeal to several classes of people. 

  • Anyone paying exorbitant rents for small apartments in California.
  • Couples with kids or those wanting to start a family and are looking for a safer place or better schools
  • Those looking to move around and sample the world. Airbnb is particularly flexible in this regard.
  • Those looking for more affordable housing
  • Those looking to get away from it all. For some, small towns offer a better way of life. Others might want to be close to fishing, biking or other outdoor activities, 

Companies that insist workers return to the office will find many employees increasingly resistant. 

It's possible a recession changes that. But demographics are also on play.

 Employment Levels in Retirement Age Groups

Employment Levels in Retirement Age Groups

Age 60+ Employment

  • In 2022: 22.09 Million
  • In 2008: 13.46 Million
  • In 1999: 8.22 Million
  • In 1981: 7.21 Million

There are over 22 million people age 60 or over who are still working. We have never seen anything like this before, so don't expect prior recessions to be a model for this one.

Why I Expect a Minimal Rise in Unemployment This Recession

Companies will struggle to fill positions of those retiring. That's just one of the reasons Why I Expect a Minimal Rise in Unemployment This Recession

Covid permanently changed the office model. More accurately, covid dramatically accelerated work-at-home trends that were already happening.

Either way, things are not going back where there were. 

This post originated at MishTalk.Com.

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