Mitch Messer is a born and raised New Yorker with a bachelor’s degree from MIT, a masters from University of Southern California, and a 20-plus year career in real estate investing. So for him to wind up in **checks notes** Tulsa, Oklahoma caught a few people off guard – including himself.
But Messer is far from down-on-his-luck. In fact, he’s making the most out of a $10,000 relocation incentive through Tulsa Remote, one of the many programs paying remote workers to move to smaller metros and towns. Eight months into the program, Messer is enjoying a low cost of living and a vibrant community in a city he calls “a well-kept secret.”
Tulsa Remote is just one of 65+ paid relocation programs in 27 states offering up to $20,000 in cash and incentives to remote workers who move in and stay a while.
For the most part, these aren’t the cities you’ll see on a Taylor Swift tour route. With around 800,000 people, Tulsa is one the largest metros to offer paid relocation and has arguably the most successful program.
However, most paid relocation cities have at least two things to offer remote workers that big cities don’t:
- Affordable home prices
- A chance to make an immediate, meaningful impact on a community
What's in this Article?
What is paid relocation for remote workers?
Paid relocation is an incentive to move to a specific location. In most case, paid relocation offered by employers that need workers at a physical location. However, a growing number of municipalities and organizations are offering paid relocation for remote workers to attract outside talent and income to their area.
As you’ll see below, paid relocation programs for remote workers are incredibly diverse in their structures and incentives.
Map of paid relocation programs for remote workers
Spanning from Hawaii to Maine, paid relocation programs are as diverse as the areas that offer them. In the map below you’ll find 50+ locations with paid relocation programs for remote workers featured on MakeMyMove with incentive packages valued between $191 and $20,000. Hover or click a pin to see the median home price, maximum incentive, and incentive type.
- Green pins indicate incentive packages worth over $7,500
- Blue pins indicate incentive packages valued under $7,500
- Red pins indicate land incentives
Paid relocation program highlights
As mentioned, paid relocation programs are quite diverse in what they have to offer. Here are a few highlights from the programs above.
We pulled the latest median home prices for each city from Realtor.com. The median home price for the locations on the map range from $124,900 (Muncie, Ind.) to $880,000 (Brentwood, Cali.).
The average median home sale price is $231,874. That’s nearly $200,000 lower than the current national median of $428,700. In fact, just 3 of the 66 cities mapped (Brentwood, Cali.; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Bluffton, S.C.) have a median home price higher than the national median.
Most programs offer a cash incentive plus perks, like local memberships, shopping discounts, and gifts. But look a little closer and you’ll find some variety.
- Morgantown and Lewisburg have the highest incentive value at $20,000 ($12,000 cash and $8,000 in gifts and perks, followed closely by Rochester, N.Y. at $19,000
- Northwest Arkansas offers $10,000 cash plus a free mountain bike (value $750)
- Topeka, Kansas offers $10,000 toward homeowner expenses plus $1,000 in free Jimmy John’s sandwiches
- Hamilton, Ohio and Rutherford County, Tenn. offer $10,000 in student loan payments
- Stillwater, Okla. offers $5,000 in down payment assistance, which is more than 3% down on a median priced home
- Fifteen programs offer free land to build a home on.
While there are paid relocation programs in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and upstate New York, most are concentrated in the middle of the country. Minnesota has the most programs with seven, followed closely by Kansas, Iowa, and Indiana each with six.
With perks ranging from free land to student loan payments to $12,000 cash, each paid relocation program has its own incentives and eligibility requirements. Some require remote workers to buy a home or live in a certain area. Others require workers to move within a certain amount of time after acceptance or live in an area for a certain amount of time before the incentive is awarded.
How to get paid to relocate as a remote worker:
- Apply to a paid relocation program
- If accepted, move to the eligible area within a certain amount of time
- The incentive is awarded as the remote worker meets eligibility guidelines (e.g. employment, length of stay, homeownership, etc.)
Let’s take a closer look at the example of Messer and the Tulsa Remote program.
A New Yorker at heart, Messer spent most of his life living in large metros. But after his mother-in-law had a stroke, he and his wife, Monique, moved from Atlanta to Clovis, N.M. to help care for her. Once she passed, they saw no reason to stay in Clovis and found themselves looking for a new place to live.
After hearing about paid relocation programs from a friend in Tulsa, they decided to apply for the $10,000 incentive through Tulsa Remote, not really expected to be approved.
“Sure enough I got approved, so we thought, ‘What the heck, let’s give it a try,’” Messer said. “After two and a half years in Clovis, NM – population 30,000 – we could probably handle Tulsa with just under a million people.”
So the Messers moved to Tulsa and received $2,500 when they signed a lease, a $500 monthly stipend for 12 months, and are due for program completion bonus of $1,500 at the end of 12 months. The incentive also includes free access to a coworking space.
Technically, only Mitch is a Tulsa Remote member so the couple receives only one incentive. However, Tulsa Remote has quite a few sets of partners where both individuals receive the $10,000 incentive. Other programs may vary on this. Regardless, Messer said $10,000 goes a lot further in Tulsa than it would in New York or Atlanta.
“Ha! Ten thousand can evaporate in a matter of hours in New York. You need to take out a loan just to get in your car and drive some place,” Messer joked. “That $10,000 goes a long way here. Our rent is $800 and the monthly stipend is $500, so it subsidizes our rent quite a bit.”
Messer said the money is nice – and it’s definitely what put Tulsa on his radar – but Tulsa has much more to offer than $10,000.
“For people trying to decide where they want to live in the US and who have remote jobs, they’re thinking, ‘Let’s pick some place where I can settle down, have a good quality of life, and not have to incur the cost of living in an expensive city,’” Messer said. “There’s a lot going for (Tulsa), and it’s a pretty well-kept secret, but I don’t think it will be a well-kept secret for long.”
The perks of being a paid relocation participant like Messer are pretty clear, especially for remote workers looking for an affordable path to homeownership.
But why would a city spend money attracting individual remote workers instead of, say, an Amazon fulfillment center that provides hundreds or thousands of jobs?
Justin Harlan, Managing Director of Tulsa Remote, said paid relocation is about diversifying both the community and its workforce.
“Instead of putting all the eggs in one basket of one company coming to town, that could then pick up and move and take employees with them, we’re creating lots of different baskets with remote workers and individual employees,” Harland said. “We’ve done that so far with over 1,600 remote workers that have come to town through the program.”
In short, Tulsa took a talent-based approach to growth. And three years in, Tulsa Remote is considered a major economic and cultural success.
A report by the Economic Innovation Group, a research organization launched by Napster co-founder Sean Parker, found that in 2021:
- Tulsa Remote participants added $62 million in new local earnings
- Every dollar spent by Tulsa Remote yielded a $13.77 return in local labor income
- One new job was created for every two remote workers brought in
But in Harlan’s eyes, the biggest measure of success is the program’s 90% retention rate and the impact Tulsa Remote participants have had on the community. One member starred in a local production of “Dream Girls” while another is the chair of a large local organization of young professionals.
“The way that we select our members is to find people that are ready to engage,” Harlan said. “If you think you can come and sit in your house and never explore what Tulsa has to offer, that’s not going to lead to any retention. Why would you pick Tulsa over Timbuktu?
“Maybe the hidden catch is we hope you actively engage in the community and find ways to get plugged in and find people to impact. We specifically select people with a track record of doing that.”
Tulsa Remote is considered one of the most successful paid relocation programs in terms of participation, retention, and economic impact. In addition to the program’s focus on highly-interactive participants, it has two major things going for it than many others don’t:
- It’s backed by the deep pockets of the George Kaiser Family Foundation
- It launched in 2018 – well before the pandemic reached the US and created a wave of remote workers
In 2019, Tulsa Remote received 10,000 applications and invited 60 remote workers to move to Tulsa. During the pandemic, those numbers have grown exponentially. Tulsa welcomed 350 remote workers in 2020, 950 in 2021, and is on track to meet its goal of 1,100 for 2022.
Only 18 of the 66 programs on the map above offer an incentive valued at $10,000 or greater and few were set up and ready for the remote work wave like Tulsa Remote. However, Tulsa Remote serves as an example of what thoughtful investing in remote workers can do for a community, and Mitch Messer is an example of the unexpected benefits that come from taking a chance on a smaller community.
“If you asked me a year ago if I’d be happy about living in Tulsa, or even considering living in Tulsa, I would have said you’re crazy,” Messer said. “But we are here, and Tulsa is being very good to us.”