A friend from Los Angeles sent a link to Kate Yanov Birtch, who was wanting to move back to the States after a year in Singapore. Then, the next day, Yanov Birtch’s mother tagged her on a Facebook post about it. And a second friend from Hawaii mentioned the same program: a Tulsa billionaire was offering to pay people $10,000 to spend a year in the city.
“I took it as some kind of signal to me from the universe that I should apply,” said Yanov Birtch, who grew up near San Fransisco. “I never thought about Tulsa before, but all of a sudden everybody was telling me what a great city it was.”
Everybody, indeed, seemed to be talking about Tulsa.
A year ago, when the George Kaiser Family Foundation created the Tulsa Remote program and announced plans to offer people cash if they agreed to spend a year in Tulsa, officials expected to bring 20, maybe 25, newcomers to the city.
They never expected the avalanche it triggered: Nearly 1,000 applied in just the first 24 hours. And over the next few weeks, Tulsa Remote processed more than 10,000 applications from all 50 states and 165 different countries.
Eventually, a total of 115 people came to Tulsa this year as a direct result of the program’s offer.
Inspired by that overwhelming response, Tulsa Remote will announce plans Tuesday to more than double the size of the program in 2020, when officials hope to bring at least 250 new people to Tulsa with the same offer.
Applicants must already have a job that will let them work “remotely” from Tulsa. And if chosen, they will receive $10,000 plus free co-working space and curated housing options along with help connecting to various community groups.
In exchange, they simply agree to spend one year living in Tulsa.
The hope, of course, is that they will want to stay longer.
Yanov Birtch, for one, plans to stay for good. Running her own insurance company, she and her husband plan to start a family next year and consider Tulsa the perfect place to raise children.
“I know the size of city that I do well in,” Yanov Birtch said. “Small enough not to have terrible traffic but big enough to have stores, restaurants, cultural opportunities. Tulsa is just the right size.”
Tulsa Remote has not surveyed participants to know exactly how many plan to stay permanently. But anecdotally, it seems many will at least be here for a while, said Aaron Bolzle, the program’s executive director. At least a dozen participants have already bought homes in Tulsa and several more are looking for houses, he said.
“The vast majority have exceptionally enjoyed Tulsa and are planning to stay longer,” Bolzle said. “It worked exactly the way we thought it would. Once people get to know Tulsa, they love it.”
Obum Ukabam saw Tulsa Remote mentioned on Facebook while living in Riverside, California.
“Tulsa is the kind of place that you’ve heard of, but that you don’t know much about,” Ukabam said. “The more I researched it, the more interesting it sounded, especially when I read about the history of Black Wall Street and the entrepreneurial spirit that has always been a part of Tulsa. That intrigued me.”
Less than a year after moving here, he has already become involved in multiple community groups and serves as a debate coach at a local elementary school. And Ukabam’s wife, who had never lived outside of California before, “has totally fallen in love with the city,” he said.
“It’s the Tulsa Remote staff that makes it work,” he said. “They have become a family to us. We were new to Tulsa but we already had this amazing support group that basically made everything easy for us.”
Adam Recvlohe, a software developer, had lived in Tulsa from 2009 to 2012 before moving to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he was intrigued to hear about Tulsa Remote’s offer.
“Downtown has changed quite a bit,” Recvlohe said. “Previously, I didn’t frequent downtown much. There were just a few business here and there. But now, downtown has a really good feel.”
Tulsa also offers more opportunities “to become involved in the community,” he said, especially with his tribe, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, where he hopes to encourage more young people to pursue careers in software development.
“I want to have a meaningful impact on the place where live,” Recvlohe said. “And Tulsa is the kind of place where you can do that.”