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Topeka Offers Money To Move

NOEL KING, HOST:

Topeka, Kan. is offering up to $15,000 for people willing to move there and work for a local company. It's the latest in a string of cities and states that are offering cash, housing and even help paying student loans as incentives to relocate. But is that enough to convince young professionals to leave big cities? Nomin Ujiyediin of the Kansas News Service has the story.

NOMIN UJIYEDIIN, BYLINE: Topeka sits about an hour away from the Missouri border and has about 130,000 residents, plus the state capital, two hospitals, a university and museums dedicated to Evel Knievel and the Brown v. Board of Education decision. But in Kansas, the city doesn't have the most exciting reputation, even among the people downtown on a sunny winter afternoon.

LAURA SHANEYFELT: There aren't lots of things for young people to do.

KATHLEEN WATERS: You know, it's a great place to raise a kid and a pet and have a great family. Property is pretty cheap. You know, you get a lot for your money here.

ERIN COOK: I think there's a lot of lower-income areas that maybe people just get, you know, a bad impression of.

UJIYEDIIN: How much would they have to pay you to move here?

COOK: Oh, gosh. Maybe like $100,000 - $50,000, I don't know.

UJIYEDIIN: That was Laura Shaneyfelt, Kathleen Waters and Erin Cook. Topeka is hoping that $15,000 to buy a house - $10,000 if you're renting - will be enough. So far, it's piqued the interest of more than a thousand people from all over the world, says Barbara Stapleton. She works for a city-county partnership that helped develop the offer.

BARBARA STAPLETON: You'd be surprised how many of those applications have come in from New York and New Jersey, as well as from California and Texas.

UJIYEDIIN: Topeka is far from the only place trying to draw people away. Vermont and Tulsa, Okla. offered similar deals to people willing to move and work remotely. Some small towns in the Midwest have offered free land, income tax breaks and even college tuition. Those offers are just one effort to lure people from bigger, more expensive cities, like Los Angeles and Austin.

Zachary Mannheimer consults with Midwest towns and cities that are trying to attract more young people and creative professionals. He says just having good jobs doesn't seem to be enough anymore.

ZACHARY MANNHEIMER: They want the right types of housing, cultural amenities and entrepreneurial opportunities and trails and walking spaces. That's what they're looking for. Then they decide on the job.

UJIYEDIIN: Mannheimer says other effective strategies include business incentives and promoting arts and culture. But really what makes people come and stay is the chance to make a difference in the world.

MANNHEIMER: I would argue you're going to have better odds of achieving that in a smaller location

UJIYEDIIN: For some, Topeka might be that place. Tara Wallace is a therapist who grew up in the city. She moved away as an adult but was drawn back by Topeka's sense of community.

TARA WALLACE: If you come with the mentality that Topeka is crime-ridden, boring and all of that, that's basically what you're going to get. But if you come into Topeka with an open mind and say, let me see what I can do, let me see what I can find, you can create something amazing for Topeka.

UJIYEDIIN: And that's roughly the same pitch made by many smaller cities offering incentives to lure new residents. For NPR News, I'm Nomin Ujiyediin in Topeka, Kan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.