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  • (playful music)

  • - [Narrator] This is Northwest Arkansas,

  • the birthplace of Walmart and the gateway to the Ozarks,

  • which you've probably heard of because of that Netflix show.

  • - You owe me to job?

  • - What?

  • - [Narrator] But for the most part,

  • this little corner of the country is off the radar

  • for today's legions of remote workers

  • who are itching to bounce

  • from their high-priced, high-density confines

  • in cities like San Francisco and New York.

  • But, here they all are.

  • - What?

  • - Are you serious?

  • (woman cheering)

  • - Duh, fantastic.

  • - [Narrator] Getting a Zoom call

  • saying that they've been selected.

  • - I feel like I won the lottery.

  • - [Narrator] To help put Northwest Arkansas on the map.

  • - How soon do you think you could relocate here?

  • - Wow, okay.

  • - [Narrator] Among the many incentivized relocation programs

  • attracting remote workers since the pandemic,

  • this one in Northwest Arkansas offers $10,000

  • to those who move to the area and stay for at least a year.

  • We're talking about cities like Bentonville,

  • Rogers, and Fayetteville.

  • - I did see that Fayetteville was also top places

  • for singles to meet people.

  • - [Narrator] They'll even throw in a mountain bike.

  • - Geez, $10,000 and a bike.

  • - [Narrator] After receiving more than 24,000 applications,

  • the program called their first 25 winners,

  • just a few weeks ago.

  • - I wasn't expecting you to tell me, so now I gotta--

  • - Oh goodness, I'm definitely gonna call my mom.

  • (Dazz laughs)

  • - [Narrator] It's probably not a huge shock

  • that hundreds of applicants came

  • from the pricey tech hub of the Bay Area

  • and that includes the Portillo family,

  • Josue, his wife Athena, who both work

  • for tech companies and their three kids.

  • - Thank God.

  • I would looking for a sign.

  • I was surprised and just full of joy.

  • Me and my wife have been talking

  • about trying to get a home, a new home for our family.

  • - Our living situation in San Jose is very, very compact.

  • It's a two bedroom,

  • so all of us are in that little condo.

  • - [Narrator] Before the pandemic,

  • Josue commuted four hours a day from San Jose

  • for his job in San Francisco,

  • leaving just a few precious hours left to spend

  • with his kids at night in their 800 square foot home,

  • but even though he was able to work from home

  • this past year, the Portillos still dreamt

  • of owning a big house, the kind they still

  • can't afford in the Bay Area.

  • But now, with their $10,000 grant

  • and the blessing of Josue's employer,

  • the Portillos, which includes Josue's parents,

  • say they'll be heading to the Ozark Mountains

  • in a few months, where an average home

  • costs less than $270,000, 70% cheaper than San Jose.

  • - When we went to go visit Arkansas,

  • it felt like a different country.

  • It just felt like a secret place that we found, like a gem.

  • - [Narrator] The Portillos are among the growing numbers

  • of remote tech workers fleeing the broader Bay Area

  • and especially San Francisco.

  • In fact, nearly 40% more people moved out

  • of San Francisco during the pandemic months

  • compared to the same period a year earlier,

  • the largest increase of any major city in the country,

  • according to data from moving company, Updater.

  • Most moved within California,

  • but these states were also top destinations.

  • While cities like Austin, Denver, and Seattle

  • are enticing Bay Area tech employees more than ever before.

  • This comes as some of the biggest tech companies

  • like Twitter, Facebook, and Salesforce,

  • San Francisco's largest private employer,

  • have all announced more permanent remote work options.

  • - I just never had given a thought to Arkansas.

  • - [Narrator] But if smaller, less known places

  • like Northwest Arkansas wanna compete

  • for these remote workers, they have to sweeten the deal,

  • with cash and tax incentives in the tens of thousands.

  • - This is gonna be amazing.

  • - [Narrator] Like Tulsa, Oklahoma did.

  • Though it's $10,000 grants launched in 2018,

  • the program saw a dramatic rise

  • in applicants since the pandemic.

  • It now has more than 500 participants

  • living and working in Tulsa.

  • A newer program called Choose Topeka pays up to $15,000

  • and has brought in 30 workers in just over a year.

  • - Right out of the gate, it exploded.

  • So, I mean, we had over 3,500 applications

  • within the first 30 days, globally.

  • - [Narrator] Bob Ross runs the Topeka program.

  • - It really exposed a tremendous pent up demand

  • for people looking for something new and a fresh start

  • and they saw Topeka as a possibility for that.

  • - [Narrator] Having won a $10,000 grant from Topeka,

  • Tyler Jaggers moved out of the Bay Area

  • and bought a $47,000 house in Topeka that he's fixing up.

  • - I was already thinking about moving, pre-COVID,

  • and then once COVID kicked in,

  • coupled with things such as, myself,

  • I was living next to a fire evacuation zone.

  • - [Narrator] As an indie video game developer,

  • who often dresses up for all the networking events in town,

  • Tyler hopes it will be easier to grow his company

  • with the lower cost of living.

  • - It's a nice little sleepy town.

  • It's not like bustling.

  • There's not a ton of traffic.

  • If you need to park, there's a spot.

  • You got a big truck, there's a spot.

  • Got a small car, enjoy it.

  • So, it was just great fun.

  • - [Narrator] Ross sees remote workers, like Tyler,

  • as an investment, one that will pay off.

  • - What we found is that $10,000

  • in remote incentives translates into $50,000

  • of economic impact in just one year.

  • And then, you add in just the soft benefits

  • of the intellectual and cultural impact

  • that there'll be making.

  • It's $10,000, very well-spent.

  • - [Narrator] But skeptics of these relocation programs

  • say the pandemic won't last forever and then what?

  • San Francisco supervisor, Matt Haney,

  • believes the Bay Area will always be the home

  • of innovators and entrepreneurs.

  • - The tech industry has had such a strong ecosystem here

  • that for people who wanna network,

  • who are starting businesses and wanna recruit folks,

  • engineers, a lot of that is concentrated here

  • in the Bay Area.

  • - [Narrator] And even if these relocated tech workers

  • don't return, that doesn't mean

  • a new wave of talent won't take their place.

  • - It may not be the same companies,

  • it may not be the same people before the pandemic.

  • Only the biggest, richest companies

  • could even secure office space here

  • and that may change, which I think could create

  • a renaissance for startups who wanna be in San Francisco.

  • - [Girl] Did you saw that?

  • Mommy, look at that big bubble.

  • - [Narrator] The Portillos say

  • they don't expect to return to the Bay Area.

  • - I think the only way we would come back

  • is the cost of living goes down,

  • but I don't know if that's gonna happen.

  • - [Narrator] But the family says a fresh start

  • couldn't have come at a better time.

  • Several weeks ago, the entire family contracted COVID.

  • Josue's father was on a ventilator

  • and they weren't sure he was going to make it.

  • - When he finally came home, it was a miracle.

  • The doctors say it was a miracle

  • and then, a few days later we got the grant.

  • It just felt like that saying,

  • "It's always darkest before the dawn."

  • (Josue's father singing in Spanish)

  • - Josue's father is expected to make a full recovery

  • and now, with some extra cash

  • and the promise of finding affordable property,

  • Josue can live close to his parents and look after them.

  • Some sort of acre lot, maybe even placing

  • her house and my house next to it, having a little ranch.

  • (laughs)

  • Yeah.

  • (gentle music)

(playful music)

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How Small Cities Are Luring Remote Workers Away From Tech Hubs | WSJ

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/31
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