Topeka leaders are using cold hard cash to lure more workers to live in Kansas’ capital city.
The new Choose Topeka program, approved last week, will pay up to $10,000 to people who rent and $15,000 for those who purchase a primary home — after a year of residency in the city. A news release says beneficiaries can use those funds “for all types of moving related expenses.”
The Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO), a combined effort of Topeka and Shawnee County, approved the measure Wednesday evening. It’s set to launch in 2020.
The program is part of Go Topeka, an arm of the Greater Topeka Partnership and JEDO. The group is expected to split the cost of the incentives with employers, who will decide who is eligible, said Barbara Stapleton, vice president of business retention and talent initiatives at the Greater Topeka Partnership.
She said many of the city’s largest employers were on board with the new program. But they’ll use it to target hard-to-fill positions, she said.
“We’re not saying, ‘Help, we need people to move here for every job we have,’ ” Stapleton said. “That’s not the intention.”
Employers may use the incentives on top of signing bonuses or moving expense reimbursements.
“Some employers may already have some plans like that in place, and this is something that could be layered,” she said. “But it also gives some flexibility for midsized or smaller organizations that maybe don’t normally have that capability.”
The $300,000 commitment will provide incentives for 40 to 60 new resident workers during the program’s first year.
Topeka’s effort is indicative of a wider labor shortage across Kansas and the nation.
Topeka’s October unemployment rate of 2.9% was near a 10-year record low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more than a year, the number of job openings available across the country has outpaced the number of people looking for work.
David Callanan, co-founder of Topeka-based AE Wealth Management, said the current market requires “thinking outside the box.”
“As we continue to grow and expand, especially in some specialized areas like wealth management and technology and programming, attracting great talent remains one of our biggest challenges,” he said in Topeka’s news release. “On top of that, growing the population base in Topeka is one of the most important long-term strategies we should be focused on as a community.”
A recent study found that 40% of Shawnee County workers who earn more than $40,000 per year live outside the city. The new program aims at capturing some of those commuters as well as aiding employers’ efforts to recruit new workers.
Stapleton said the city wants to see more employees who both live and work in Topeka because they are generally more rooted in the community, its schools and businesses.
“And if their home is outside that community, it’s just that much more likely that they could find different work,” she said.
Bob Ross, senior vice president of marketing and communications at the partnership, said the effort is also aimed at boosting Topeka’s profile. Many people outside of the area are unaware of the capital city, he said.
“We don’t have the same natural gravity that Kansas City offers when you have a 2 million-plus metro, which sells itself,” he said.