The impact of COVID-19 is prompting people throughout the country to consider where they live and work, with remote work becoming the new normal for many professionals.
The Northwest Arkansas Council is offering a substantial cash incentive for some of them to put down roots in Northwest Arkansas — $10,000.
The council has launched a pilot program called Life Works Here to attract remote workers to Northwest Arkansas. It will invest more than $1 million over six months for the initiative, made possible by philanthropic support from the Walton Family Foundation at the recommendation of brothers Steuart Walton and Tom Walton.
“We want to attract talent who will help us build a richer, long-term talent pipeline that supports our thriving local economy,” Northwest Arkansas Council President and CEO Nelson Peacock said in a statement.
The program touts Northwest Arkansas as having one of the best living costs, plentiful outdoor lifestyle perks, nationally ranked arts, culture and cuisine and per capita income that’s 14% higher than the national average.
“The Northwest Arkansas region offers a unique opportunity to create balance for those eager to move from congested and expensive larger cities and suburbs,” Peacock said. “We’re not seen, necessarily, as a place to relocate to from the coasts. We need that visibility like these targeted incentives to get people here with the right skills to add value to our ecosystem.”
To be eligible for the $10,000 grant, participants must:
- Be at least 24 years old
- Have at least two years of work experience
- Have full-time employment (which includes self-employment)
- Currently reside outside of the state of Arkansas
- Can relocate to Northwest Arkansas within six months of acceptance
- Be a U.S. citizen or have the necessary credentials required to work legally in the U.S.
Peacock said Life Works Here would consider all kinds of participants, but the most in-demand talent in the region are STEAM professionals and entrepreneurs. The pilot program does not offer employment. Instead, it is intended for individuals who can work remotely in their current job.
“We’ll assess the applicants’ skills with our region’s needs, as well as what they can add to our community,” Peacock said. “We’re not looking for someone who can only do a good job at work. We’re looking for people who will add to the vibrancy of our community.”
At the same time, Peacock said he hopes the Life Works Here program and other services provided by the Northwest Arkansas Council will help strengthen a pipeline with individuals applying for jobs in the region.
Northwest Arkansas has more than 10,000 job openings right now and has a talent shortage to fill available STEAM jobs, Peacock said. STEAM is an educational movement to add the Arts (A) into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum and careers.
In addition to the $10,000 grant, Life Works Here recipients will be gifted either a street or mountain bike — to help new residents take advantage of the outdoors on their terms — or free annual membership to one of Northwest Arkansas’ world-class arts and cultural institutions: Crystal Bridges, Momentary, Scott Family Amazeum, TheatreSquared, Walton Arts Center and Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP).
A review panel selected by the Northwest Arkansas Council will evaluate individual applicants, interview candidates and award the incentives to selected applicants. If selected, recipients use the funds to help set up their new life anywhere in Benton and Washington counties.
More information about the Life Works Here program, including qualifications and how to apply, can be found at this website.
Peacock did not say how many of the $10,000 incentive packages are available.
“We don’t have a firm number in mind,” he said. “This is a pilot right now. After the initial feedback and results are reviewed, we’ll determine whether to extend the program.”
Peacock said the Life Works Here program is the latest element in a broader strategy to build upon Northwest Arkansas’ strong economic foundation and position the region for the future. Many of the recommendations trace back to the findings of a November 2018 report released by Austin-based think tank IC² Institute at the University of Texas.
Executive director Greg Pogue and his team spent more than a year assessing Northwest Arkansas’ economic and entrepreneurial growth potential by visiting the region seven times and engaging with dozens of groups to determine areas that need more work.
“So much of what we have been doing is to address the shortcomings identified in that report,” Peacock said. “We hope this will do that — get some eyes on us and what is possible here. Get that entrepreneurial talent here. Hopefully, it’s coming together. At least we think it is.”