Would you trade the hustle and bustle of a big city (or the place you call home) for small-town living, a place without a big tech scene or even the arctic tundra…in exchange for up to $15,000, student loan forgiveness or free land?
As tech workers flock to large metros like San Francisco and New York, quieter, more rural areas are facing slowing population growth or even decline. To reverse the trend, several places in the United States (and even remote Greek islands) are getting creative to entice workers, particularly tech pros, to move there and revitalize their economies.
And instead of trying to woo big-name companies with millions in tax breaks, these places are offering individual workers thousands in incentives to either come and work for employers based in the area or bring their laptops and take up remote work.
While these places may be smaller or more isolated than your typical tech hub, many have thriving, tight-knit tech communities—and bigger cities are often just a short drive away. So if you’re looking to relocate (or are tired of battling traffic and spending the majority of your paycheck on rent), why not head to one of these nine places in the US that will pay you to move there?
Alaskans have been getting paid to live there since 1976—and it’s not to cover the costs of thermals. The state’s Permanent Fund Dividend divides 25% of the state’s oil revenues each year among its permanent residents, even children. This amount averages around $1,200 per person each year, but has been as high as $2,072 in 2015. In 2018, each Alaskan received $1,606, which means a family of four received $6,424.
Despite being the most sparsely populated state (and having winter temperatures in the -30°s and -40°s), Alaska’s tech startup scene is warming up. Tech accelerator Launch Alaska, for instance, works alongside startups in the area to solve challenges surrounding food, water, transportation and energy. And in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, one entrepreneur bootstrapped her beauty startup in a log cabin, proving that remote work is possible here, especially if you love jaw-dropping views and plenty of open space.
What’s the catch? You must be a resident of Alaska for at least one year (and be present in the state for at least 190 days of that year) with no felony convictions. It’s also important to take note of the cost of living, which is more expensive than many other states. Anchorage’s COL, for instance, is 28% higher than the rest of the US.
2. Hamilton, Ohio
This Midwestern town is offering up to $10,000 ($300 per month for 30 months) to help young professionals pay down their student debts. Known as a “reverse scholarship,” the city’s Talent Attraction Program (TAP) Scholarship awards students after they’ve graduated, with the goal of turning the city’s urban core into a more attractive place for young transplants to live and work—especially those still carrying student loan debt.
Since it’s less than a 45-minute drive from Cincinnati (ranked #4 for highest software architect salaries), Hamilton is close to all the amenities of a big city, but still retains its small-town charm with just 63,000 residents. Want to feel connected to a bigger tech community? Attend one of the many meetups, conferences or startup weekends in nearby Cincinnati or Dayton.
What’s the catch? It’s only available to people who’ve graduated with a STEAM degree in the last seven years and who still have at least $5,000 in outstanding student debt. Plus, you can’t already be living in Hamilton, and you must have a job lined up in Butler County (where Hamilton is located).
3. Harmony, Minnesota
Looking to put down roots in a quiet town? Harmony, Minnesota offers cash rebates for people looking to build a brand new home (ranging from $5,000 to $12,000)—based on the home’s final estimated market value.
Dubbed the “biggest little town in Southeast Minnesota,” Harmony isn’t what typically comes to mind when you think of tech. In fact, the town of less than a thousand people is actually home to the largest Amish community in the state, a group not known for their modern tech adoption. Yet, Harmony is a great (and affordable) place to live especially if you’re a remote tech worker. Minneapolis is only about 130 miles north if you crave the big city feel every once and awhile, and that means big tech events, like the Twin Cities Software Symposium, are only a few hours away.
What’s the catch? There are no restrictions or limits on an applicant’s age, income level or residency, but you must agree to live in the home—i.e., you can’t turn around and immediately rent out your new home or sell it.
Through its Educational Opportunity Tax Credit program, Maine will help you pay off your student loans by deducting money from your income tax bill up to a certain amount, depending on your major and degree type. For those who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2018, it’s $377 per month.
For instance, if you owe $2,500 in state income taxes but you paid $2,000 in student loans during the year, you’ll owe Maine just $500. If you have a STEM degree, you’ll also get a check in the mail if the amount you paid in student loans exceeds your state income tax liability. So if you owe $2,500 in state income taxes, but you paid $3,000 in student loans, you’ll receive $500 from Maine.
Looking to build a tech career here? Check out Portland, Maine, a quirky city just 100 miles north of Boston. With the highest concentration of life science companies in the state, it’s the perfect place if you’re interested in healthtech. The disruptive veterinarian app Covetrus, for example, was born here, as was the athletic training and fitness software company KinoTek, which uses motion capture and virtual reality to visualize the body’s muscles and the movements they generate.
What’s the catch? It’s not just lobster. You must be a graduate from any college in the US, starting with the class of 2016. In order to get the deduction, you also have to live and work in Maine for at least nine months of the year.
5. Marquette, Kansas
Can’t afford to buy a house in a big city? With a population of just 641, Marquette, Kansas is the perfect place to move if you’re truly looking for small-town living or want to trade apartment living for your dream home—without breaking the bank. It’s offering free lots of land (ranging from 11,000 to 25,000 square feet) to people who move there and build a house.
A place where parents feel comfortable letting their kids play outside and walk to school, Marquette’s peaceful, quiet community and low cost of living make it a great place to raise a family. But just because it’s a tiny town doesn’t mean you can’t grow your tech career. While relocating to a town like Marquette is ideal for someone who works remotely, there are also opportunities in the nearby larger towns of Salina or McPherson, and Marquette is just an hour outside Wichita—the largest city in Kansas.
What’s the catch? To qualify, you must agree to begin construction on your home within 120 days and finish building it within one year. You also have to commit to living in your new home for at least a year.
6. Newton, Iowa
When you build a new home in Newton, Iowa, you’ll get $10,000 cash to spend on whatever you want, plus a “welcome” package worth over $3,000, which includes gift certificates from local businesses.
A family-friendly community of 15,000, Newton boasts a cost of living that’s 21.9% lower than the US average and is home to an active arts community, with an annual sculpture festival and over 90 displays of public art dotted throughout the community. Like some of the other small cities on our list, Newton is probably best for remote workers, but is well within commutable distance (30 miles) to Des Moines, the most populous city in the state and a leader in both agricultural technology and insurtech.
What’s the catch? This incentive only applies to new single-family homes worth $160,000 or more.
7. St. Clair County, Michigan
St. Clair County, Michican is offering up to $15,000 (paid out on a quarterly basis) to help college grads with STEAM degrees pay off student debt through the county’s Come Home Award.
Part of the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI metro area, St. Clair County lies in the Thumb of eastern Michigan. The area is a great place for young entrepreneurs and tech pros due to its easy access to both city and country lifestyles. Plus, The Underground, a thriving incubator in downtown Port Huron, offers co-working spaces, seed money to fund startups and events, and workshops, which has made launching new businesses here a breeze.
What’s the catch? You must be a college graduate with a STEAM degree (earned in the last 10 years) and have student debt. You can’t already be living in St. Clair County or be in the process of moving there, and you also must agree to live and work in the area and secure a job or create your own business within 120 days of receiving the award.
8. Tulsa, Oklahoma
Already work remotely? Head to Tulsa. The city is offering remote workers $10,000 cash, a free desk at a co-working space in downtown Tulsa and networking opportunities through its Tulsa Remote program. You’ll get a chunk of the cash upfront to pay for relocation costs, a monthly stipend and the rest when you finish your first year there.
The city wants to attract tech professionals who can build up the area’s tech and data science sectors in particular. We hope that this sparks more tech talent and gets entrepreneurial people to make Tulsa their home and pursue their career or ultimately start a new business,” says Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which funds the program.
What’s the catch? You must be over 18, eligible to work and live in the US and be able to relocate to Tulsa within six months. Plus, you must already be doing full-time remote work for a company based outside Tulsa County, or be self-employed.
When you think of Vermont, you probably think of colorful fall foliage, Ben & Jerry’s or maple syrup. But it’s also a great place for remote work (or finding a new full-time job). That’s because Vermont pays remote workers $10,000 ($5,000 per year for up to two years) to cover their remote working expenses (e.g., relocation costs, computer, internet, membership in a co-working space). However, in 2020, the program will expand beyond remote workers to people who move to Vermont and work for employers based in-state.
Also launching in 2020 is Hula, a 150,000-square-foot campus that will soon be home to offices with Apple and Facebook vibes. More than 25 businesses have already expressed interest in setting up shop here, including OVR Technology, a South Burlington company that adds scents to virtual reality. And if new, state-of-the-art office space doesn’t convince you that Vermont’s tech ecosystem is growing, check out the Vermont Tech Jam, an annual job fair and tech expo that showcases the state’s most innovative tech companies.
What’s the catch? You must be a full-time remote employee who’s incurred qualifying remote worker expenses. Or, you must move to Vermont on or after January 1, 2020 and work full-time for an employer located in Vermont.
Is getting paid to move really worth it?
Whether you’re a new grad, buying your first house or looking to boost your savings, any of these nine locations could soon be your new home. But before making any big moves, consider how salaries in these areas compare with salaries in your current city based on cost of living. It’s also important to weigh relocation costs against the city’s or state’s incentive. If the cost to relocate is higher than what they’re offering, it may not be worth it.
And while tech jobs might be harder to find in a sleepy town where demand for tech workers is a lot lower, remote work is a viable option, big cities are often just a short commute away and there are tons of Slack communities you can join if you want to talk tech. You never know, you might be surprised by how much you enjoy living and working in a place you’d never considered before.