The program wants to attract “talented and energetic people” to Tulsa who care about making a difference in their local community, spokeswoman Katie Bullock told CNN.
Funded by George Kaiser Family Foundation, the program launched in 2018 and has so far received more than 20,000 applications from people all over the world looking for a new place to call home.
“We started with the goal to introduce Tulsa to the nation and create a vibrant and diverse talent ecosystem within our community,” said Ben Stewart, interim executive director at Tulsa Remote. “We seek to bring people from diverse industries and skill sets that bring jobs with them into our economy, and at the same time, population growth is always important.”
The rules are simple. Applicants must be full-time remote workers or be self-employed outside of Oklahoma and eligible to work in the United States. They must be older than 18 and be able to move to Tulsa within six months. Once accepted, recipients agree to live in Tulsa for at least one year.
Admissions are rolling, so there is no deadline to apply. The money, $10,000 in cash, comes in the form of a grant and is distributed to the recipient over the course of a year.
Recipients get more than just a stack of cash. The program provides free workspace, housing specials on certain apartments and opportunities for community hangouts and meetups.
And it’s working.
Since 2018, Tulsa Remote has accepted 400 people into the program — only three of which left the city.
“We have an incredibly high retention rate at 97%, as so many participants truly connect to the city during their year-long stint,” Bullock said.
By the end of the year, according to Bullock, 500 people will have moved to Tulsa through the program.
“Our members vote, they buy houses here, but they also volunteer in numerous activities,” Stewart said. “That’s the secret to Tulsa Remote’s success, that community integration element. We really want people to see themselves in Tulsa for the long haul and get to know and enjoy Tulsa. Our goal is that they become life long Tulsans.”
Stewart says that most of their members moved to Tulsa because of the city’s affordable cost of living and its diverse art scene, as well the parks, including Tulsa’s 66-acre riverfront park Gathering Place.
From California to Oklahoma
Tulsa Remote has seen increased interest in the program since the coronavirus pandemic forced many people to begin working remotely, Stewart said.
While more than 40% of the program’s participants come from the tech industry, others range from journalists to Japanese opera singers, according to Stewart.
More than half of the applicants are California and New York residents, including 29-year-old Briana Evans.
In August, Evans moved from her small apartment in San Carlos, California, to a much larger space, where she now works as an equity design strategist. While spending less money for a bigger apartment played a role in her decision to move to Tulsa, that wasn’t her only reason she packed her bags.
“The biggest driving factor for me was that over the past four years, I noticed I was living in a political bubble,” Evans told CNN. “I was recognizing that I don’t know what the rest of the country is like. I felt disconnected from the reality of what other people are experiencing day to day, and I wanted to move somewhere where I could have a taste of what other people’s lives are like.”
Her favorite part of the move so far — besides having a larger living space — is experiencing fall for the first time and getting to watch the leaves change colors, she says.
While the pandemic has limited her ability to fully experience Tulsa and meet new people, Evans says she hopes to soon find herself becoming part of the community.
CNN’s Lauren M. Johnson contributed to this report.