"Hi, remote workers! We'll pay you to work from Tulsa. You're going to love it here," reads the welcome message from Tulsa Remote.
The program, started by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, is paying people $10,000 to move to Tulsa, Okla., to work remotely, and a surge of applicants are now coming from the Bay Area.
"We've had over a thousand applicants just in the last two weeks alone. Over half of them are from California, many from the Bay Area,” Grant Bumgarner, the program's community manager, told News on 6. “It's been a wild time for us.”
Even before the pandemic, there was a slowing in population in Oklahoma, largely due to the downturn in the energy sector. “The last few years have been the slowest population growth since the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” Chad Wilkerson, of the Kansas City Fed’s Oklahoma City branch offic,e told Bloomberg when the program was launched in 2018.
Tulsa Remote is designed to put the small city on the map and give it a jolt of energy and diversity. The major shift to remote work after the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented spike in interest in the program from "digital nomads," as the site calls them.
"Tulsa Remote is back and bigger for 2020. We're looking for 250 more remote workers," the program states.
The foundation says that it wants to make Tulsa more diverse, but not everyone can apply. Applicants must be a remote worker or self-employed.
Beyond the $10,000 in cash, the opportunity offers a free desk space at a co-working hub in downtown Tulsa that "provides a place to get work done and collaborate with other local entrepreneurs, remote workers and digital nomads."
The cash is handed out over the course of the first year in the city. Some money is given upfront to help with relocation expenses followed by a monthly stipend to keep things moving.
If selected, applicants are required to strictly stay in the Tulsa city limits. "Those selected for the program must live within Tulsa city limits. The city limits do not include surrounding areas such as Bixby, Broken Arrow, Sand Springs, Sapulpa or Jenks," the rules state.
The program's claim that "Tulsa has a great cost of living, and likely cheaper housing than where you currently live," is definitely true for those applying from the Bay Area. Despite the recent rental drop, the current rate for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is still just shy of $4,000 a month — in Tulsa it's around $800.
One Bay Area resident who was selected to join the program, Jaleesa Garland, told KOCO News she is excited about the move after struggling to make ends meet in San Francisco, “It’s too hard to survive here and truly thrive here. And now, with everything else we have going on, it’s become even more difficult,” she said. “I’ve lived with about 20 different people over that five-year period.”