36 degrees north

Obum Ukabam (right), a marketing manager, works next to Jonathan Orwig, a software engineer, at 36 Degrees North’s base camp in Tulsa. “It’s the Tulsa Remote staff that makes it work,” Ukabam 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.” JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World

Last year, the George Kaiser Family Foundation launched an audacious program. Using no public money, it started offering $10,000 to people from outside Oklahoma (Hello, Portland? Houston? Denver?) if they would move to Tulsa within six months and stay for a year. Tulsa Remote participants had to be either self-employed or fully employed and able to work remotely. The program would also provide free working space, curated housing options and help settling into a new environment.

The $10,000 bet was the newcomers would find out that Tulsa — way out there in fly-over country — had a lot of offer. It had restaurants, cool clubs, affordable housing and good people. It didn’t have L.A. wildfires or Seattle traffic or New York taxes or San Francisco rent. It was the kind of place you could work hard, live happily and raise a family.

The other side of the bet was that once the new professionals tasted Tulsa, they would stay ... that after a year, after the $10,000 was in the bank, the Remote Tulsa cohort would think there wasn’t much reason to head back for the coast ... and that, in the long run, they’d make a difference: innovate, start families and companies, create jobs and bring cosmopolitan ideas into play that would attract their peers to Tulsa even if there wasn’t a $10,000 incentive.

It was such a creative idea that it immediately caught the attention of the nation (and the envy of cities that don’t have a benevolent change-agent like the Kaiser foundation).

It also caught the attention of eligible workers.

Nearly 1,000 applied in the 24 hours after Tulsa Remote was announced. Over the next few weeks, the program processed more than 10,000 applications from all 50 states and 165 different countries.

And, anecdotally at least, members of that first group of 115 Tulsa Remote pathbreakers are saying they’re willing to stick around.

Nothing succeeds like success, so the Kaiser foundation has announced it is doubling down on Tulsa Remote. This year it plans to accept 250 remoters for the second wave.

The acid test for Tulsa Remote is yet to be taken. Frankly, we might not know the real impact for a generation. Who stayed and what did they do?

But we do know that the boldness of the idea has caught hold. It’s making people take a second look at Tulsa. We think the urban hipsters can like Tulsa too, and, thanks to the creative thinking of the Kaiser foundation, we’ll eventually know if $10,000-worth of incentive can produce a whole lot of change.


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