As the remote working trend continues to grow, more and more US states are realizing the economic development benefits of attracting full-time digital nomads. As a result, many have launched remote worker moving incentive programs enticing professionals with financial incentives and opportunities such as discounted housing, generous tax breaks for those living part-time in that state, and access to special amenities.
Some of these programs, such as Tulsa Remote, predate the pandemic. These communities are pulling out all the stops and showcasing the best their region offers to woo remote workers to their communities. While many incentives are financial, some will sweeten the deal with other perks. For example, the Choose Southern Indiana remote worker program includes an annual pass to Indiana Department of Natural Resources state parks and either a free guided tour behind the scenes at the Pakota Lake Winery, a free visit to the Wilstem Ranch Drive-through Safari, or tickets for two to attend dinner and a musical show at Abbeydell Hall.
With so many programs available, choosing one that would be a good fit can be hard. We caught up with Mackenzie Cottles, the marketing and communications specialist for the Shoals Economic Development Authority and the facilitator for the Remote Shoals remote worker incentive program, to learn more about why these programs benefit both the workers and the community, what to look for in a program, and how successful this program has been.
Mackenzie Cottles is a marketing and communications specialist at the Shoals Economic Development Authority, where she manages and coordinates the Remote Shoals program, ensuring participants’ time in the program is everything they hope for.
Cottles knows that relationships are important in achieving their goal of bringing life-long citizens to the Shoals community. Cottles received the Public Relations Council of Alabama’s Student of the Year Award in 2019. She holds a bachelor’s of science in Mass Communications with a focus on public relations and a minor in marketing from the University of North Alabama.
Since 2019 the Shoals Economic Development Authority has been offering their Remote Shoals program: “Remote workers making at least $52,000 can apply for the programs. If chosen through the selection process, they receive up to $10,000 to make a move to the Shoals region. There are some other stipulations, but it’s pretty straightforward. We keep it as simple as possible because we know that making a decision to move is a lot of work,” shares Cottles.
To qualify for Remote Shoals, remote workers must move from outside the two-county area: “We’ve had some folks that have moved within the state, or Nashville, which is only two hours away. In total, people have moved from 33 different states, and we’ve had one international worker move from Belize City,” she says. “We have had 118 remote workers that have relocated to the Shoals area, which totals 234 new citizens when you count spouses and children.”
The Remote Shoals program was founded as an economic development project, and it has paid off significantly. In the past four years, the new remote workers to the area have brought in $11.5 million in new income to the area. These remote workers are paying more than half a million dollars in rent and spent $15 million on real estate purchases.
The cash incentives to move to the region vary and are disbursed at three intervals: “It is tiered based on the remote worker’s income. Then, they receive three payments. Once someone were to make a move to the Shoals, they get 25 percent, then 25 percent at six months, and the remaining 50 percent once they complete their program term of one year in the Shoals,” she explains. “Our funding comes from The Shoals Economic Development Authority. Historically, we have been tasked with recruiting business and industry to the area. The Remote Shoals program was a different and innovative approach to economic development within the community itself.”
There are several reasons why regions and economic development councils may offer remote worker moving incentive programs. “Since we have been running it for four years, we have seen a lot of positive impacts. It’s [bringing] outside jobs and a way for us to stimulate the economy in a different field other than the typical industrial recruitment that we’ve done,” explains Cottles.
As previously mentioned, this program has brought in significant new income, rent, and home purchases to this area. “Because of the low cost of living here, some people are purchasing second and third homes,” she adds.
But communities don’t just benefit from the added revenue. There are other benefits: “The people themselves are having an impact. They bring different perspectives since they’ve lived in different places and had different experiences. We had a gentleman who moved from Georgia, but they had been living in Las Vegas for a little while before that. He wanted to get involved local politics. We encouraged him to attend some local council meetings to see if he could get on some boards. Eventually, he was appointed to the redevelopment board for that city and was able to see things from a different perspective and provide insight to get the ball moving on some new [endeavors],” shares Cottles. “So that’s a less quantifiable outcome but still really impactful on the community.”
One of the worries for relocating remote workers and for the programs bringing them in is local acceptance of these new transplants. In Cottles’ experience, that worry has been completely unfounded: “It’s very well received here. When locals meet someone in the program, they understand how important it is that they are here and how great they can be. These remote workers are not just coming in, taking the $10,000, and leaving. They are really investing in the communities and giving back tenfold what we initially incentivized them with. They are very well received on a local level,” she says.
MakeMyMove.com—a website that aggregates and facilitates remote worker moving incentive programs—lists 65 communities that have available programs. With so many options, remote workers need to follow a few guidelines: “Number one is to do your research,” says Cottles. “We’ve never seen new programs as competition because there’s a person that wants to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma or Johnson City, Tennessee, and it’s exactly what they’re looking for. But there’s also a person who wants to move to the Shoals, and it’s exactly what they’re looking for. The people who’ve been successful in our program and have stayed well beyond their one-year commitment are those who really looked into living here before applying.”
She continues, “Find out what your priorities are. Is it community? Is it proximity to an airport? Is it schools? Once you have those, come in with an open mind. There are a lot of stereotypes about different areas as you look, especially when you look at the South. But those aren’t always accurate, and you need to see the community and the people there to welcome you. None of these communities are perfect, but we are very committed to being a place our citizens want to live, and that extends to our new remote workers.”
Talking to the programs directly can also give remote workers a good sense of how life can be in a new area: “Here at Remote Shoals we’re always open to ideas and suggestions. We keep an open mind and understand if there is an area that might need improvement, we want to fix it,” she adds.