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Small towns are paying people to move there

What do you do if you’re a civic leader whose town has great jobs, but not enough people who want to live there?

How about paying people to move to your community?

That’s what’s happening increasingly in places like Hamilton, Ohio; Grant County, Indiana; and North Platte, Nebraska. According to The Wall Street Journal,

The idea has spread where a strong economy, an aging population and an exodus of younger workers have triggered severe labor shortages—often places with very low unemployment rates and higher-than-average wage growth.

That’s why small towns across America, instead of offering incentives to employers, such as Amazon.com, Inc., are giving it to workers—one by one.

Hamilton, Ohio’s, city leaders, for example, will give new residents $5,000 to help pay off student debt. Grant County, Indiana offers $5,000 toward the purchase of a new home. In Marne, Iowa, you can claim a free parcel of land.

Mike Allgrunn, a University of South Dakota economist, compares financial offerings like these to the Homestead Act, a federal law passed in 1862 that awarded public land to settlers who moved West.

Success has been mixed in the new programs, however.

In Hamilton (population 62,000), about a dozen people have applied for the $5,000 scholarships, offered to people who agree to live for two years in the city’s downtown and have backgrounds in engineering, technology, science or the arts. So far, however, all applicants have already resided in the region. The city’s boosters concur that more outsiders will need to sign up if the program is to be successful.

The Hamilton initiative is modeled on a campaign launched in St. Clair County, Michigan. St. Clair County has given out eight grants, whose recipients were chosen from a pool of 40 applicants. Recently, the award—which is aimed at enticing back local young people who have moved away—was boosted from $10,000 to $15,000.

Grant County, Indiana, has had greater success with its financial incentives program. There,

the economic development office offers $5,000 toward a home for people moving to the area. The requirements are a job and advanced training or a college degree. The money must be repaid if recipients leave within five years.

About 100 newcomers have bought houses through the program, said Tim Eckerle, executive director of the Grant County Economic Growth Council.

The chamber of commerce is developing a $9,000 scholarship program to help repay student loans, which combined with the housing grants, would pay newcomers $14,000 to settle in Grant County.

In Marne, Iowa (population about 100) success is more elusive, however. The town offers free lots to build a house to newcomers. But to date, only one house has been built.

North Platte, Nebraska, has also struggled to attract newcomers. In 2017, the town’s chamber of commerce began giving as much as $10,000 to people willing to move to the town for a job. According to the Journal:

At the time, Gary Person, the chamber’s president, said the money was intended to encourage people to “put down some roots,” while helping the town of 24,000 fill some of its hundreds of open jobs. The chamber and participating employers would split the cost.

The first grant went to Audrey Bellow, a 25-year-old law school graduate [and] provided support while she studied for the bar exam and prepared for a job at a local law firm.,

The town has landed a second newcomer, a physical therapist who moved from Colorado with her husband. A check presentation is in the works.

Earning those two victories showed Mr. Person how difficult it is to give money away, if the requirement is living in North Platte.

“It’s a sign of the times,” he said, “how difficult it is to recruit talent.”

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