Sarah Lehr | Wisconsin Public Radio

If you pay them, will they come? 

Local leaders across the country are asking that question, as communities turn to incentive programs in a bid to lure more residents and workers.

More than 70 communities in the U.S. are offering people at least $1,000 in cash or other incentives if they relocate, a new study from the Wisconsin Policy Forum found.

And the majority, or 61 percent of those programs are based in the Midwest, according to the analysis which used data from and other sources.

The Midwest may be a hub for such programs because certain pockets of the region are trying to reverse population loss, said the study’s author, Mark Sommerhauser. Small and rural communities, in particular, may be feeling a pinch as more people flock to in-demand regions like the West Coast and Sunbelt.

“That has created, I think, a little bit of an impetus for some of those communities to try to look at new, perhaps more aggressive strategies to try to entice workers, oftentimes, professional workers, that are relatively highly paid to relocate to their community,” he said.

Since 2018, the George Kaiser Family Foundation has been funding a program that gives remote workers $10,000 grants along with other perks if they relocate to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The rise of remote work since the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred interest in similar efforts, although it can be difficult to judge exactly how well incentive programs are working, Sommerhauser said.

“Was the incentive the actual thing that tipped the scale to cause that person to relocate to Tulsa or any of these other communities?” Sommerhauser said. “That’s just not something we can really measure with total certainty.”

Only two such incentive programs exist in Wisconsin, the study found. In 2021, Fond du Lac County began offering businesses matching funds, so that workers could get bonuses of up to $15,000 if they relocated to the county. As of November, 15 employees had taken advantage of the program, the study said, although the county isn’t currently accepting new applications.

Farther north, the city of Merrill is dealing with a housing crunch by offering new and current residents $10,000 to offset the costs of building a single-family home.

And, in Milwaukee, city officials have studied whether cash payments and other perks could help bring remote workers to southeast Wisconsin.

This story was produced by Wisconsin Public Radio and is being republished by permission. See the original story here.