Following the lead of two cities - Tulsa, Oklahoma and The Shoals, Alabama - West Virginia has launched their own remote worker incentive program. But do these cash offer programs cheapen remote work?
In the latest massive play to attract highly-paid remote workers, the Ascend WV program is offering $12,000 to Americans who relocate to the state made famous by John Denver’s timeless song (and a Kingsman movie).
I need to pre-apologize to Ascend, because this is not a direct commentary on them. I love seeing any region recognizing the value of remote work and remote workers, both economically and individually.
But I have some concerns.
It’s just money
So -- $5,000 on move in, $5,000 after year one, and $2,000 after year two. Sounds fantastic. Part of me wanted to move just for the cash. Yes, I’m doing fine, but we’re talking thousands of dollars here. That’s awesome.
But then that’s it. Once the money’s gone, will I like it there?
Each major attraction program - Tulsa Remote, Remote Shoals, and now Ascend WV - do a great job of explaining why you would like a given location. My concern is that people who come for money will only stay for (more) money or leave for (more) money. You might tell yourself you’re going for the beautiful hiking… but if you need to be motivated by money to move in the first place, that could mean bad things for the community in two years’ time.
How many times can the government of [insert city or state here] pay $10k to people to move? And how many times do they want to?
These kinds of programs get sexy headlines like “This place will pay you $10,000 to relocate for remote work,” but then what. These are real places, with real people, and real needs.
Remote workers are not superman
One argument for paying remote workers to move is the economic one: you pay them $10k, but they will contribute far more to the local economy via spending!
That’s a valid argument. And I think the math works out well too since it brings people in to buy homes, spend money at local restaurants, and pay local taxes (if the area charges them at all).
But remote workers are not superman. They will not solve all your economic woes - and in some cases may not want to at all.
They might come in, take advantage of the cheap real estate, drive up prices, and dip. And you paid them for the privilege. Or they will come and stay, but “remote worker” doesn’t necessarily equal spendthrift. They might be chasing FIRE, so your $12k attraction payment is really just going into their investments. Or they might be regular people who don’t like spending all of their money in a weird half-guilt, half-show-of-gratitude for their new home.
Stop expecting remote workers to solve your problems. They won’t or can’t. And it’s not fair to anyone to think otherwise.
These programs breed resentment
Perhaps my biggest issue with these programs is a relatively simple set of questions: if the government has this money to throw around, why not invest it in public infrastructure? Or culture? Or supporting local citizens so they can get remote jobs themselves?
Eventually, locals will start asking questions. And they are 100% right to ask them.
Why do these out-of-towners get paid to move here, get free access to office space, get unfettered access to fawning local politicians, and the town thanks them for the privilege? No, no, no.
This is not fair to hard working locals who have tried to make a life in a given location.
Cause here’s the thing: remote workers who are truly nomadic (or want to be), want to go to cool places. If all you have to say is you moved cause you got paid, well everyone in the remote working world will nod and tell you to get that cash. But really, everyone wants to hear stories about the holes in the wall, the water, the fun, and the hidden gems. I’m not saying these places aren’t hidden gems. I’m saying they are leading with the wrong narrative.
Make yourself irresistible
The ultimate goal of these programs is to make the locations irresistible: there are amenities and they pay you to enjoy them. What’s not to love?
Well, personally I’d rather see programs - and disbursements of cash - that make life amazing so that anyone would want to live there on their own volition, not because they were paid to move:
Support for locals to learn relevant skills to get remote jobs.
Support for local entrepreneurs to build locally and hire remotely (locals and otherwise).
Local culture and infrastructure that makes a place so unique you can’t help but want to go there (did you know the town of Windsor, Nova Scotia, has an annual pumpkin regatta where people row across a part of the ocean in giant pumpkins?)
These are the places that remote workers want to move, if they want to move at all.
West Virginia, to quote John Denver, is almost heaven. The mountains are stunning. Tulsa, OK has a beautiful old town. The Shoals is has adorable seaside town vibes.
These kinds of amazing locales - with fast internet, to boot - exist all over the place.
But to these cities I say: Don’t spend your cash paying one-off remote workers to move there, hoping they will solve your problems. Invest in your local community so they get a piece of the action, then spend the rest of the money on a marketing campaign to remind people to move while they still have the chance. If you need some inspiration, take a page out of Nova Scotia’s book.
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