With the increase in remote work options, some destinations have tried to capitalize on peoples' ability to work from anywhere by promoting "workcations" and "bleisure" extended trips that entail a mix of work and play. However, the remote work initiative in Tulsa, Oklahoma, aims to do more than entice travelers to come for merely a visit — it wants people to bring their jobs and make Tulsa their new home.
"We had this growth conundrum in the city where high-skilled talent was looking for jobs that didn't exist, and the jobs we were trying to get to move here to build companies really didn't see the high-skilled talent," said Justin Harlan, managing director for Tulsa Remote.
This Innovators & Influencers video includes an interview with Justin Harlan, managing director of Tulsa Remote, and Cynthia Rollins, a successful applicant now working remotely in Tulsa as chief operating officer at CampLife.
The terms of the Tulsa Remote one-year program include a $10,000 grant and additional benefits to eligible remote workers who move to and work from Tulsa. The money helps with relocation expenses and includes a monthly stipend, with the balance paid when the first year is completed.
Partners in the Tulsa region report being appreciative of the opportunity to collaborate with Tulsa Remote. One such partner is Tulsa Regional Tourism, an effort of the Tulsa Regional Chamber that includes Visit Tulsa for leisure travel, Tulsa Convention & Visitors Bureau for meetings and conventions, Tulsa Sports Commission for amateur and pro sports, and the Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts & Culture (FMAC) for creative industries.
“Tulsa Remote’s efforts have truly filled a void that all destinations should have on their radar,” said Ashleigh Bachert, interim senior vice president of Tulsa Regional Tourism.
Most recently, Tulsa FMAC and Tulsa Remote partook in a creative crusade of sorts as more than 80 Tulsans from 13 local start-ups and 18 local bands ventured to Austin, Texas, for 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) to ‘take over’ the legendary conference and festival.
“Tulsa Remote plays a niche role in the Tulsa economic development and tourism efforts. They tackle bringing in new and amazing talent to live here on a personal level,” said Bachert. “At the same time, they showcase our great city in a remarkably unique way. While traditional leisure travel hinges on aspects such as attractions, events, and awaiting experiences, Tulsa Remote inherently has built-in marketing which is the genuine definition of word-of-mouth from those who already took the long-term leap. And in tourism, a spoken word is worth a thousand pictures.”
As much as the numbers impress, the less quantifiable but more important aspect is the ability to be part of a built-in community that speaks to program participants. They receive free space at the downtown 36 Degrees North, Tulsa’s top coworking community, and can participate in Tulsa Remote’s community-building programming, events, and meetups designed to help participants connect with the organizations, nonprofits, and people working to make Tulsa the best it can be.
Before the pandemic, Cynthia Rollins read about remote work options while living in San Francisco. When the city shut down completely and she couldn’t take advantage of what makes the city great, she hoped to find a more affordable place to do her remote job. Tulsa Remote’s $10,000 incentive got her attention, but it wasn’t the deciding factor.
“The idea of this experimental group of people coming together in a place that looked awesome based on the information the program provided, and then this idea of having a built-in community of people coming to do this experiment with you was fascinating,” she said. Rollins came for a visit, liked what she saw, and made the move. Having passed her “Tulsa-versary,” she has bought a house and intends to stay.
The first year saw about 60 people move to Tulsa. That number grew to about 400 by 2020, while 937 people moved in 2021. Harlan said there’s no upper limit to the number of people the program will offer the incentive and other benefits.
“We’re interested in as many people that are willing to give Tulsa a chance,” Harlan said. “To us, if $10,000 is what's going to get you here, get plugged into the community, meet other folks, and start to consider it as a home in the long term, we're willing to spend that $10,000 on anybody that will come — especially now that we’ve affirmed in an economic impact study that every dollar is turning into $14 for the community. We believe that as many great people as we can find, it’s a bet we’re willing to place.”