LAS CRUCES – Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, it’s estimated that around 4 million people — or about 2 percent of the workforce — worked remotely. Public health orders, the closure of school buildings and efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus drove many American workers who were able to work from home to do just that.
Members of the Doña Ana County economic development and business communities gathered (virtually) Tuesday for the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance Business in the New Mexico Borderplex Forum to discuss ways to attract remote workers to the area.
When the pandemic is over, an estimated 30% of the entire workforce will work remotely at least a couple of times a week, according to Global Workplace Analytics. A survey from Gartner Research found that 74% of organizations plan to shift some employees to remote work permanently.
Taking cues from Tulsa
Grant Bumgarner, community manager for Tulsa Remote, was the featured speaker at Tuesday’s forum. Tulsa Remote is a recruitment initiative launched in November 2018. With funding provided by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the organization provides $10,000 grants to selected applicants who choose to relocate to Tulsa and work remotely for one year.
“These are talented individuals who have a job that they can do from anywhere — something we’ve all become a lot more accustomed to now,” Bumgarner said. “The incentive that we provide them is we give them $10,000 cash over the course of a year.”
The applicant agrees to relocate to Tulsa, continue doing the job they are already doing — just from Tulsa — for one year. It also includes membership in a coworking, communal office space in Downtown Tulsa, if they’d like to use it, Bumgarner said.
Within the first three months, Tulsa Remote had received 10,000 applications; 70 applicants were selected in the organization’s first year. They’ve now received more than 35,000 applications from every state and more than 160 countries. They average 600 to 1,200 applications per week, and have issued more than 800 grants.
Ninety-five percent of the recipients remain in Tulsa after one year. Over time, the overall economic benefit the remote workers provide to the community is well worth the initial investment, Bumgarner said. If a municipality were to undertake a similar initiative, it would get its money back within about two years, he said
“These individuals pay for themselves,” he said. “And they pay for themselves really quickly … We get these high-quality individuals, we only accept the best of the best … In tax income, in company connections, sometimes they hire individuals here in town … They buy homes, they pay property taxes, they pay sales tax. That remote income is now taxable.”
To date, Tulsa Remote has funded the relocation of employees who work for Amazon, Facebook, Nike, Apple, Google, Netflix and Yale University — to name a few. The average salary of a recipient is approximately $100,000.
Adapting for Doña Ana County
Eric Montgomery, vice president of business development for MVEDA, outlined four types of remote workers the area could look to attract:
- Telecommuting: These workers are direct employees of a company and will typically receive W-2s, benefits, times of work, and will work within proprietary systems established by the company.
- Fully remote: These workers are also W-2 employees, but are in positions that do not require work time frames or a physical office space.
- Freelance: These “contract workers” provide deliverables which are controlled to a greater degree by the worker rather than the customer. Workers in this group may also perform smaller tasks (piece work) to achieve revenue needs.
- Internet business: For those who do not wish to work for others or as a contractor or freelancer, but have a passion for a business idea, this type of remote work may present the best option. This might include online shops through Amazon, Etsy or eBay, for instance, and typically provide products or services.
Montgomery said some of the challenges the region might need to address in order to attract more remote workers include improving broadband speeds, reassessing the state’s corporate income tax to make it more appealing to hire New Mexico residents, and retooling existing incentives to encourage more New Mexicans to work remotely.
Some attendees asked about whether New Mexico’s anti-donation clause would interfere with the ability to provide such incentives if they were to come from city, county or state governments.
Doña Ana County Manager Fernando Macias, who was in attendance, recommended exploring all options — including Local Economic Development Act funding — and indicated the idea was worthy of exploring further.
NMSU and DACC
One thing that prompted the creation of Tulsa Remote was a perceived “brain-drain.” Graduates of the city’s colleges and universities were leaving for larger cities as soon as they graduated.
“We wanted to reverse that trend,” Bumgarner said. Through Tulsa Remote, they’re able to look for workers in certain career fields they’d like to see grow in Tulsa.
Montgomery noted that Las Cruces has experienced the same, to some degree, with New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College.
“Our alumni base is a great potential,” Montgomery said. “One of the things that we could do is tap into our alumni base across New Mexico; specifically, we’ve had high-end conversations with NMSU about how we can blend economic development opportunities for Doña Ana County with their alumni base. And one of those is seeing how many of those alumni are currently working remotely.”
Those former residents already understand the quality of life benefits the region can offer, he said. Graduating seniors can also perhaps be enticed to ask their potential employers about the opportunities for working remotely from Las Cruces — versus moving somewhere the cost of living may be significantly higher.
MVEDA has produced a white paper on remote working in New Mexico. Read it below:
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