Rochester buys into an economic development trend: paying remote workers to move here

For years communities have rolled out the red carpet in an effort to lure new enterprise to town.

Now, scores of municipalities, including Rochester, are rolling out the green (as in money) carpet to entice remote workers to plant roots in their city.

The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, through its Greater Roc Careers program, has partnered with Indiana-based MakeMyMove to sell remote workers across the country on the merits of life in the Flower City.

In return for relocating to the area and staying for at least one year, individuals as well as families, can receive up to $19,000. The program provides a $10,000 stipend, paid in three installments, while up to an additional $9,000 in homebuyer grants are available for newcomers buying a house in the city of Rochester.

Barbara Egenhofer
Egenhofer

“Everyone has this war for talent and if we’re going to win, we have to be creative,” said Barb Egenhofer, director of talent strategy for the chamber. “You’re a remote worker, you can work from anywhere; we want you to work from here.”

The chamber, in collaboration with ROC2025, launched the program in the spring after studying the model and the success of a similar recruitment effort used by Tulsa, Okla.

Tulsa Remote kicked off in 2018, later joined forces with MakeMyMove and now is recruiting more than 1,000 people a year. Better than 90 percent stay beyond the one year that is required to receive the $10,000 in cash and enticements, said Evan Hock, co-founder and chief operating officer of MakeMyMove.

“Communities are telling their story,” Hock said. “It’s a competition for talent.

“Historically you think about economic development and you think recruitment of businesses to a community. Well, rather than recruit a company with 200 employees, I can recruit 200 people who bring their jobs and their income with them.”

In theory, as more workers in a certain business sector relocate, an area becomes more attractive to businesses in that field as well.

The chamber moved forward with its program after seeing the success in Tulsa, analyzing the return on investment and then raising about $2 million in initial seed money. The 2022 cohort provided funding for 40 moves and is full, with 22 families already making the move, Egenhofer said.

The short-term goal is to boost the annual total to 100 recruits, with an ideal target of 200 a year.

Participating communities pay to place its recruiting content on the MakeMyMove website. Remote workers considering relocation then shop for cities by region, by offer or even by amenities of a community, such as small town, college town or available prominent activities.

The premise is simple: If you’re a totally remote worker, then why not live somewhere that you love, and get paid to go there.

“People are moving where it’s more affordable, to be closer to family, to be closer to the things they like,” Hock said. “And they’re bringing spending power with them.”

The Rochester program, like most communities, requires that interested persons fill out an application. To be considered, they must provide proof of income, generally $50,000 and above; proof that the job is fully remote; and proof that they’re able to work in the United States without any restrictions.

“And then we place a priority on certain industries like tech and software, healthcare and optics,” Egenhofer said.

She said this is very much an equal opportunity campaign, and the recruiters want people that are engaged in their community, either by serving on boards or by volunteering with groups or organizations.

So far, more than 1,600 people have submitted applications. “Having our content on MakeMyMove is driving a lot of traffic,” Egenhofer said.

There is an initial payment of $4,000 to persons when they move to Rochester, followed by $3,000 after sixth months and another $3,000 after 12 months. About half of the newcomers have already bought a house, Egenhofer said.

There are 150 communities using the site to extol their virtues, with 78 offering incentives. MakeMyMove initially began working with the state of Indiana to attack remote workers, then morphed into a site for all communities.

“Our workforce in Indiana was shrinking,” Hock said, “and we were asking, ‘How do we help our community grow?’ MakeMyMove sprang up from opportunity during COVID-19. The pandemic made millions of people suddenly recruit-able.”

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