(The Center Square) – Officials in Paducah, Kentucky have put out the help wanted sign. And they’re looking for 25 applicants to move to the western Kentucky city on the banks of the Ohio River. One catch is you have to have a job already.
In another city, that is.
Earlier this month, Paducah launched its Remote Workers Incentive Program. For the 25 individuals selected, they’ll receive a waiver on the city’s payroll tax, an allowance for 12 months of internet service, reimbursement for relocation costs and several perks and passes to local businesses, attractions and institutions.
For someone who makes $100,000 a year, taking full advantage of the benefits would equate the incentive package to almost $6,500.
Paducah is among several cities and states that have opened their doors to remote workers. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive change in how many companies operate. With more workers able to do their job via computers, VPNs and Skype, they realize they no longer need to live in the same place where they once occupied a cubicle.
According to an article from Bankrate.com, communities like Morgantown, West Virginia and Tulsa, Oklahoma - both larger than Paducah - have local- or state-backed remote worker attraction campaigns. So does Maine, which offers tax credits to recent college graduates with an emphasis on graduates in STEM fields.
The city of more than 27,000 people serves as the hub city of Kentucky’s Jackson Purchase, the state’s westernmost region. It’s about 140 miles from Nashville, 175 from Memphis and St. Louis and about 200 from Louisville. Just west of town is Barkley Regional Airport, which features twice-daily service from a United Airlines regional carrier to Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
But city leaders tell The Center Square proximity isn’t the main selling point of the initiative. Rather, it’s what’s the city has itself. Paducah offers a symphony orchestra, arts centers, museums, theaters, boutiques, antiques, and many local dining options.
“A lot of folks will say we punch above our weight… We don’t operate as a 27,000 population city,” Paducah Communications Manager Pam Spencer said. “Nobody believes that we’re that. We look a lot bigger. We act a lot bigger.”
It does keep in good company with cities several times its size. Eight years ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) deemed it a “Creative City” for its role in connecting cultures through creativity. Paducah is one of just nine Creative Cities in the U.S., joining the likes of Austin, Kansas City, Santa Fe and Seattle.
It’s the creative type that Paducah hopes to attract as well as young professionals who are often attracted to the types of amenities the city touts. A free one-year membership into the city’s young professionals association is part of the city’s incentive package to select newcomers.
That group features more than 200 paid members, Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce President Sandra Wilson told The Center Square, and the group has been a vital resource for chamber sponsors and others who want their input on the community.
“We felt like it’s been a great success,” she said. “When the city was developing the remote worker program… they consulted with young professionals on a call about what’s attractive about Paducah to them.”
Besides already having a job that’s at least 100 miles from the city and currently be living at least 100 miles from Paducah, there are other requirements for applicants to meet.
They must be at least 21 and either be a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident or able to verify they can work legally in the country. Their job must allow them to either work from home or at a co-working space within the city.
After accepting the city’s incentives offer, they must own or lease a primary residence within Paducah’s city limits within three months. They must also agree to stay for at least one year after the end of the incentives.
Anyone who meets that criteria can apply. However, Paducah Business Development Specialist Kathryn Byers said there is a focus on workers in Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Houston and Louisville.
“If they’re researching opportunities for remote workers, we will pop up there and they’ll be able to learn more about our incentive program,” Byers told The Center Square.
The project originated from a strategic planning session for the Paducah City Commission, which includes the mayor and the four commissioners (one of whom is Wilson), about six months ago. They made it a priority, Spencer said, because they knew people across the country were interested in remote working opportunities.
That led to the board passing an ordinance for the program and including funding in the city’s fiscal year budget, which started on July 1.
The incentive package includes up to $2,500 in reimbursement of relocation expenses, with eligible expenses including a rental deposit or a down payment on a house as well as typical moving expenses. It also includes an internet allowance of up to $70 a month for 12 months as well as nearly $1,150 in local memberships - like the young professionals group - or passes to local attractions and events - like the city’s symphony orchestra concerts.
But one of the keys is the 12-month waiver on the city’s payroll tax. At 2%, someone who earns $100,000 would save $2,000. Byers said that is an important benefit, especially when attracting workers from a state that does not have income taxes, like Tennessee and Texas.
“This is a really unique incentive piece that we’re able to offer,” Byers said. “There are a few others that offer this, but we stand out against the crowd with it.”
Once the city approves 25 applicants, Spencer said officials will go back to the commission with a summary of how the project worked.
“Then it will be the commission's decision on whether they want to fund more money so that we can attract more workers,” she said.
More information on the program is available on the Paducah city website.