Small Town Labor Shortages Spawning Relocation Programs

May 2, 2018
Mural
Photo: Unsplash/Adam Jang

While the U.S. economy overall has recovered, small towns are still grappling with a wilted work force that could drive employers away. Several towns are now experimenting with relocation programs paying people to move in.

Mike Allgrunn, an economist at the University of South Dakota, calls the financial incentives “a modern-day Homestead Act.” The first Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 and encouraged Western migration by offering public land to settlers. Realtor.com reports that Hamilton, Ohio's relocation program targets Millennials, offering $5,000 paid toward a person's student loan debt, while in North Platte, Neb., those relocating can expect a ceremony in their honor, and a check for $10,000.

Jobs at the paper mills and safe manufacturers on this stretch of the Great Miami River mostly dried up by the early 2000s, leaving behind closed factories and an abandoned downtown. Today, a spruced-up waterfront, loft apartments and help-wanted signs give the appearance of economic renewal. All that’s missing are workers, and that has prompted a novel experiment. 

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