Economic development and entrepreneurship are on the forefront of many funders’ minds these days. But some funders are taking these goals to a whole new level to give their hometowns a boost.
One notable example is the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) and its Tulsa Remote initiative. GKFF is offering an unestablished number of $10,000 grants, plus other benefits, to people who are willing to move to Tulsa and work remotely here for at least a year. The funder is looking for individuals who are already self-employed, either entrepreneurs or remote workers, and are already familiar with how to work outside of a traditional office. But ultimately, the idea here is to attract young professionals who will establish their businesses locally and start families here.
George Kaiser is one of the richest people in Oklahoma with an expansive record of local giving. He’s best known for his extensive support of early childhood education and the hugely expensively riverfront park he financed in Tulsa, the Gathering Place, which opened this fall. But Kaiser’s foundation is also involved in local economic development, and like many urban-focused funders these days, it knows that drawing talented workers is a critical piece of such efforts. “Really, the future of the city depends on it,” the executive director of GKFF, Ken Levit, commented last month. He said that Tulsa Remote “is a way to give an extra incentive to bring in talented people.”
Of the newly available grant money, grantees can use an initial $2,500 for relocation expenses, get $500 monthly stipends, and then receive a final $1,500 upon the successful completion of 12 months working remotely in Tulsa. Other perks include 33 percent discounts on the base price of new furnished apartments in the Tulsa Arts District, free utilities for the first three months, free work space at 36 Degrees North, monthly workshops, and weekly brainstorming sessions.
That is quite a bit of incentive just for putting in a year of working in Tulsa. But GKFF has a larger vision for this initiative. It is banking on these young, remote-working professionals to fall in love with everything that Tulsa has to offer—including the striking new Gathering Place financed by George Kaiser—and stay here for many more years into the future. GKFF’s staff and board are looking to make investments in individual people, not organizations, which is a departure from its more typical grantmaking strategy. It’s an interesting move for a foundation, but one that we wouldn’t be surprised to see repeated in the years ahead as cities compete more fiercely for human capital.
The pitch for the grantee selection process is “less like a job interview, more like a first date,” if that tells you anything. And Tulsa Remote’s enticing new website highlights local hot spots like the Oktoberfest celebration, craft breweries, a vintage wine bar, and hundreds of acres of wilderness for recreation. It doesn’t hurt that Tulsa has a cost of living that’s 43 percent below the national average, and low traffic congestion.
The first batch of Tulsa Remote grant recipients is expected to arrive in town in the spring of 2019.
Aside from economic and neighborhood development, GKFF is mostly concerned with the local birth-through-age-eight demographic, parent engagement, family health, criminal justice, and inclusivity.