32-year-old Tawny Ann De La Peña has lived the last decade of her life at an uninterrupted pace in big cities. As a former local TV news producer and native of Los Angeles, slowing down and moving to a small town was never on the horizon, she said – until she and her woman are each offered $ 10,000 to relocate to Tulsa, Oklahoma, via a remote work program. called “Tulsa Remote”.
“If I had thought about my life three years ago, I would never have guessed that I would have found myself in the middle of the country,” she said. “But it was such a pleasant surprise and it gave me so many opportunities.”
Some of those opportunities have included starting her own freelance writing business, moving from a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland, Calif., To a five-bedroom home with a backyard in the heart of the country while reducing living expenses of over $ 500 per month and opening his mind to new social and political perspectives. More importantly, she said, she believes the affordability and novelty of Tulsa has given her the chance to feel like herself.
The affordability and newness of life in Tulsa has given a woman the chance to feel like herself.
“If you think of science, it’s like opening up new neural pathways in your brain,” she said. “And so, you create more possibilities. “
When De La Peña and his wife, Raphaelle, moved together in April, they joined the more than 1,300 people who have moved to Tulsa since Tulsa Remote started in 2018. According to program executive director Ben Stewart, more over 90 percent stayed beyond the required year.
Tulsa Remote enjoys the patronage of her native son George Kaiser, a philanthropist who made his fortune in oil and whose family foundation has already invested huge funds in creating cutting-edge early childhood education programs. Its support for this program has made it a nationally renowned experience trying to transform a city’s workforce.
Remote work programs saw a resurgence of interest during the pandemic as Americans took their work home or in a new direction, and Tulsa Remote exploded as a result. The program received five times more applications in 2020, compared to 2019, said Stewart. Similar incentive remote work programs have sprung up in other parts of the country, including Life Works Here in Arkansas, Movers and Shakas in Hawaii, and Ascend West Virginia.
In addition to the $ 10,000 – paid as a down payment for the home or over time – Tulsa Remote members also benefit from assistance with finding accommodation, access to collaborative workspaces. and weekly social and professional events.
Stewart said Tulsa, built during the oil boom of the early 1900s for a population that never fully materialized, is ready to absorb newcomers without displacing those already present. He sees Tulsa Remote members as “additive members of the community” of the city, those who can bring jobs with them, rather than taking jobs away from local residents.
“Tulsa Remote really seeks to create a community at its heart. Tulsa Remote wouldn’t be successful if Tulsa wasn’t that community, ”said Stewart. “And what I see happening, more and more, is that our members are involved in building relationships with local Tulsans so that we are not in an isolated bubble, especially after Covid.”
Tackling potential hot spots such as the local housing market and labor pool, Stephen Ross, professor of economics at the University of Connecticut, said Tulsa Remote’s additive population of less than 0.5% would not have a substantial impact for local Tulsans.
However, any potential economic development resulting from the program could impact those markets, Ross said.
“If they generate economic growth, any positive effects they will have are likely to have a positive effect on economic growth, and not on other economic growth,” he said. “Does this mean higher house prices, higher wages and longer commutes? Always.”
A new study from the Economic Innovation Group, an entrepreneurial advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, found that the program is expected to create 592 jobs this year, of which 394 are assigned to remote workers and 198 new. EIG also found that Tulsa Remote is expected to add $ 62 million in local revenue to the city this year.
In addition to fostering economic and community development, the program also seeks to combat Tulsa’s racist past: in 1921, a white mob murdered hundreds of residents and destroyed 35 blocks of what was then one of the most great concentrations of black wealth in the United States. . Then, decades later, the construction of highways again destroyed the neighborhood’s economic prospects.
Dr Freeman Culver III, who is president and CEO of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce in the Greenwood district where “Black Wall Street” once stretched, said Tulsa Remote is a way to bring the spirit back. from Tulsa before 1921 to the city.
“We have a great opportunity here to bring that momentum that we had in the early 1900s with the oil boom and to do it again,” he said. “For Greenwood to prosper as it should, we need people from all walks of life. “
“For Greenwood to prosper as it should, we need people from all walks of life. “
Kim Gray, a banking consultant who moved to town with Tulsa Remote, said that as a black woman she felt somewhat isolated here when she left Chicago in March 2020. However, she said , Tulsa Remote has helped change that.
“I’m starting to see a lot more faces that look like me, other people of color, other minority groups, which is great because I love diversity, I embrace it,” she said. . “But it’s still very difficult to live here knowing the past of what happened.”
The program interviews and selects applicants based on their community spirit, professional background and likelihood of contributing to a vibrant and diverse workforce, said Stewart. The program reports that it accepts slightly more men than women so far, with white members making up 61 percent of the program, black members 13 percent, 9 percent Latino or Hispanic, 7 percent Asian and 1 percent Native American / Alaskan, with mixed races making up the remainder. The majority moved from states like California, Texas, New York, Colorado, Georgia and Florida.
As to how the momentum of a remote work program will play out as more Americans return to the office as the new year approaches, Stewart, who said the program will continue to accept nominations indefinitely, has little concern.
“I think basically the talent is really in the driver’s seat and what you see – quite dramatically – is the talent wanting that flexibility more than ever,” he said. “And as more and more companies choose to, you know, listen to their employees, I think remote working has a very bright future ahead of it.”
Returning to her new five-bedroom home, where she and his wife each have a spacious office, basketball net and home gym, De La Peña said she imagines stay in Tulsa for three years, maybe even six.
“I feel like I’m writing my future as it happens,” she said.