Vying for remote workers: A post-pandemic rural economic development strategy?

Remote work appears likely to be a pandemic response that will stick around. And with it, rural economies may get a boost. Geek Wire reports,

Economists do not have a full picture of the pandemic’s effects as data is still being collected and crunched — and as a fifth wave of COVID-19 overwhelms hospitals across the U.S.

But it is clear that remote work options accelerated by the pandemic, for example, are here to stay. A recent survey of Seattle tech workers showed that most don’t expect to ever return to their offices full time and that many are open to moving.

And as remote work options increase, there are signs that people are moving to less urbanized areas.

We recommend the article, which is an account of a Washington State Academy of Science symposium, Covid-19: Science and Society

We previously noted a column by AWB president Kris Johnson that highlighted the opportunities remote work presents to rural communities. Also, we reported on how Utah state government is boosting rural economies by allowing state workers to work remotely.

Add to that this Associated Press story on how foundations are helping cities convince remote workers to relocate to them.

A year ago, Robin Bruce never thought she would be living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and liking it. That was before she took advantage of a program, largely financed by the Walton Family Foundation, that is offering $10,000 incentives to entice new residents to the Ozarks region.

More detail in the story. It’s a trend. 

The effort in Northwest Arkansas is part of an increasing number of philanthropy-financed projects trying to spark economic development, promote civic and cultural life, attract skilled workers, and offset declining or sparse populations.

Remote workers are especially attractive because they tend to have high disposable incomes. They also are a lot less costly for cities and towns to attract, given the demands that companies make when they are pondering a relocation. Companies often want guarantees of skilled workers, tax abatements, or other government subsidies.


Boosted by the flexibility workers discovered during quarantine, experts estimate that the number of people who don’t need to work in offices anymore will double over the next few years.

In Tulsa, the George Kaiser Family Foundation pioneered the financial-incentive approach in 2018. Nearly 50,000 people have applied since the start of the program. There was a 300% increase in applications after March 2020. Since it started, Tulsa Remote has had 1,000 participants and is on track to fill 750 slots this year.

Participants are required to stay one year to keep the $10,000 incentive, and 90% of people who moved to Tulsa stayed there after the one-year requirement. The Kaiser Foundation has invested $4 million in Tulsa Remote to offer remote workers and others an incentive to move to the city.

It’s also a growing opportunity.

About 3% of workers worked remotely full-time before the pandemic, said Brent Meyer, a policy adviser and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, citing the Survey of Business Uncertainty, done by the Atlanta Fed, the Chicago Booth School of Business, and Stanford University.

That figure is expected to double to 6%, or about 7.4 million workers, as businesses make permanent adjustments to their policies as the pandemic eases, said Meyer.

Something to watch.