Talent Attraction Incentives: The Debate Heats Up

In today’s tight labor markets, communities around the US are starved for talent.  Some places are so starved that they’ve created incentive programs to attract talented workers.  Some years ago, several places in Kansas opted for free land as a potential talent magnet.  Today’s incentives tend to be cash-based, either as direct payments or some form of alternative support such as student loan forgiveness in certain high-demand fields.  New programs in Tulsa and Vermont, among others, have been recently introduced, and are focusing on attracting remote workers and free-lancers.   Vermont’s program was unveiled in 2018, and offers up to $10,000 to support some expenses for incoming workers.   In year one, the program attracted 300 new residents, but this effort is already sparking a heated public debate   Last week, the state’s auditor  raised questions about the program’s impact and value.  In this report, his office argued that the program is providing incentives to people who would have moved to Vermont any way.  This debate over the “but for” question is common:  Would the desired action have occurred “but for” the incentive?   The audit claims that Vermont’s new talent migrants are coming for quality of life and natural amenities, and don’t need the incentive.  That may be true, but it’s also true that folks who move only because of a $10,000 incentive may not be the type of talent we want in our communities!   There are no easy answers here, but this type of discussion is likely to become more common as communities around the US introduce more innovative—and more risky—strategies to close the talent gap.

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