A dozen new Hauteans may not sound like a jolt to the local economy. Any newcomers marks a step in the right direction, though. The Terre Haute metropolitan area’s labor force shrank by 14% from 2009 to the summer of 2021, according to the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University Kelley School of Business. By contrast, the U.S. labor force grew by 5% in that same time period, and all Indiana metros combined grew by 1%. The city’s overall population stood at 58,389 in the 2020 U.S. census count, falling under 59,000 Hauteans for just the second time since 1910.

So, 12 more workers is a small number, but could spur more move-ins.

Twelve is the target number of move-ins through a one-year, state-backed program to entice remote workers from around the country to move to Terre Haute. A package of incentives will include a $1,500 payment to the relocating worker. Last month, the Terre Haute Board of Public Works approved the expenditure of $72,000 to participate in the worker-attraction program operated by the Indianapolis-based firm MakeMyMove, an amount to be matched by $72,000 from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

It’s part of a statewide remote-worker grant program, fueled by the Indiana General Assembly’s allocation of up to $1 million this year and $1.5 million in 2023.

Terre Haute becomes one of several Hoosier communities enlisted in the program with MakeMyMove. That roster includes fellow college towns West Lafayette, Bloomington and Muncie, as well as small-town areas such as Dubois County and Greensburg.

Clearly, Terre Haute needs more than 12 new workers, given the metro — which includes Vigo, Clay, Sullivan and Vermillion counties — was home to nearly 90,000 in the mid-1990s and was down to 69,185 last summer. Still, those 12 could arrive with a spouse, who could also join the local workforce or start their own business. Their friends could follow. Plus, the city’s participation in the MakeMyMove network gives Terre Haute’s virtues national exposure to the growing legion of remote workers, whose work-from-home status allows them to live anywhere they choose.

“Any we get will be good, but I also think the advertising will be good,” Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said of the program. “It’s one piece of the puzzle. We need to do a lot of things” to attract new workers and residents.

Community leaders in Dubois County in southern Indiana pondered making their own incentive program to attract remote workers nearly two years ago. The idea worked in places such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has drawn more than 1,600 new workers since launching a program in 2018 offering up to $10,000 per move-in worker. Soon, the regional economic development group that includes Dubois County and its neighboring counties landed funding to start a pilot program, Dubois Strong, through MakeMyMove. It offers relocated workers $5,000 Dubois County Relocation Impact grants for their commitment to live in the county for at least two years.

In a little more than a year, 17 people accepted the offer to call Dubois County their home, accounting for all of the available grants.

“It’s gone extremely well for us,” said Ed Cole, president of Dubois Strong, the county’s economic development group.

The county of 42,534 residents has attracted new workers from as far off as California and Connecticut, ranging from engineers to manufacturing workers, Cole said. Some of the 17 had connections to Dubois County, having either lived there in the past or local relatives. Some had no links to the area, but liked the county’s positives, such as its proximity to Patoka Lake, Holiday World, outdoors activities and nearby big cities such as Louisville and Evansville; four well-regarded high schools of varying sizes; a lively arts district in Jasper; and short commute times. And, as Cole put it, “You can breathe the air.”

Not all of the relocated workers have remote jobs. With one move-in couple, the husband had been a remote worker but found a better on-site job inside Dubois County, and his wife found a local job in her field — home health care.

The new workers and family members inject money into the community through buying fuel, clothes, food, housewares and homes, as well as paying taxes. An Indiana University economist estimated the five-year economic impact of $71,000 to the county from a relocated worker who earns $35,000 a year, and $209,000 for a newcomer earning $100,000 annually, Cole said.

Thus, Dubois County leaders are trying to secure funding for another round of relocation grants, he said. The new workers appear to like their new surroundings, too.

“The folks seem to be making themselves at home,” Cole said. “We hope that they will all stay forever.”

Dubois County is one of 153 communities in 17 states in the MakeMyMove network, said Evan Hock, co-founder of the Indianapolis- based company. Indiana has the most communities linked with MakeMyMove, said Hock, a San Antonio, Texas, native who graduated from Anderson University and has family living in Jeffersonville.

The growth of remote, work-from-home jobs since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the mobility of workers, allowing them to live hundreds, even thousands of miles from their employers’ base of operations. Before the pandemic, 4% of all professional- level jobs were done remotely, according to a study by the job search firm Ladders, cited in Forbes magazine. By February 2022, 15% of professional jobs were remote.

That gives towns like Terre Haute a chance to lure residents with occupations not normally found here.

“Historically, people have had to move towards opportunity,” Hock said Wednesday by phone. “They’ve left places like Terre Haute and Greensburg, not because they’re not great places to live, but a software development engineer had to move to [Silicon] Valley.” Now, “it’s open season,” Hock added. “[Hoosier cities] can actively recruit these people.” So far, 153 workers have relocated to Indiana communities through the state’s collaboration with MakeMy-Move, Hock said. Their average annual salary is $115,000, with a cumulative economic impact to the state of $7 million. “All of the economic impact they bring sort of trickles down through the economy,” he said.

Of course, residents who came to places like Terre Haute without a relocation incentive could legitimately ask, “Why them? What good is this to me?” Hock quoted JFK.

“A rising tide raises all ships,” Hock said. “Growth is good for the economy, good for the locals.”

Terre Haute needs that rising tide.
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