Need a surrogate grandparent? Don’t worry — Tami and Dan Wenning have you covered. Bill Kramer sits in front of Links Tavern, Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Greensburg, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Darron Cummings/AP
Free grandma, free food: Towns across US compete to entice remote workers
Barnini Chakraborty October 17, 07:00 AM October 17, 08:44 AM
Need a surrogate grandparent? Don’t worry — Tami and Dan Wenning have you covered.
The Greensburg, Indiana, couple are offering free stand-in grandparent services to young families who make the move to their small town.
The perk is part of an incentive package created to entice a new generation to the rural town with a population hovering around 11,500 residents.
“I am willing to be a grandma to anyone’s child who needs that person in their life,” Tami Wenning told the Washington Examiner.
She’ll even throw in babysitting and show up to school for special occasions like Grandparents Day. Wenning believes more people will consider moving if they have a built-in support system, which she is happy to provide.
The couple already have two grandchildren of their own, ages 1 and 3 with another on the way, but say they’re ready to open their hearts and home to new residents who need them.
“They’d know they’ve got somebody that they could reach out to if they wanted to have a date night or if their child was in school and there was a Grandparent Day,” she said. “I think it would be awful to not have a family member or somebody there to represent, so that kid wouldn’t be sitting there lonesome without somebody to represent them.”
Over the years, the couple has hosted 13 exchange students. They are both well known and beloved in town. Tami is the executive director for the Decatur County Community Foundation and often babysits her mail carrier’s children for free on the weekends. Dan is a bus driver and coaches track at the local high school.
“If this catches on, we will vet a group of grandparents who are willing to step in and help,” she said. “You don’t want to just trust your baby or your children with anybody.”
The couple’s country charm is what Greensburg hopes will set it apart from dozens of other cities and towns also vying for new faces.
In addition to financial perks and mortgage assistance, places are sweetening the pot by throwing in services such as free theater tickets, meals, and babysitting.
The packages mark a turn from traditional methods used to boost an area’s economic growth. So instead of trying to tempt large companies to move to the area, towns are targeting individuals.
In Greensburg, new residents will receive $5,000 in moving expenses, open invitations to home-cooked meals at neighbors’ homes, a one-year free membership to the YMCA, free gift cards to the farmer’s market, an invitation to the annual hospital gala, passes to local theater performances, as well as free passes for boating and beaching at Lake Santee.
“It’s a way to show people that don’t live here that once you’re here we are welcoming, and we can’t wait to have you and that we’re going to make sure you are successful,” Greensburg Mayor Josh Marsh told the Washington Examiner. “This incentive package includes tickets to some of the hardest events to get into annually so that when people get here they can make those connections, network, make friends, and meet people.”
Unlike some other rural towns that have offered incentive packages to move but lack the infrastructure to support the rush, Marsh says Greensburg is ready. And he says if rural life gets a little repetitive, newbies can drive an hour to Indianapolis or Cincinnati for upscale dining, nightlife, and professional sports.
“You can achieve the quality of life, have the great school system and the cost of living of a small community while still not losing those big-city assets just down the street,” he said.
Though incentive programs have been around for years, they gained popularity after working remotely became popular thanks to COVID-19.
Indiana-based company MakeMyMove, a virtual marketplace that matches remote workers and their families to communities across the country, recently awarded Greensburg its “Neighbor Makers” award for its creative incentive package.
Founder Evan Hock said the Wennings’ surrogate grandparent package took Greensburg over the top.
“She’s a huge competitive advantage for Greensburg,” he said. “Maybe some of the other communities will try to copy her, but she stands out.”
MakeMyMove acts as a listing site for incentive packages. So far, more than two dozen programs are trying to recruit remote workers.
Some cities like Topeka are shelling out $10,000 to home buyers who make at least $60,000. In Stillwater, Oklahoma, new residents get free coffee and martial arts classes. Tulsa Remote is offering members a $10,000 grant to relocate as well as access to “countless social, networking, service, and other community events.” In Jasper, Indiana, the “wood capital of the world,” the going rate is $5,000.
The schemes echo the incentives currently being offered by the state of West Virginia. The inaugural class of Ascend West Virginia will receive a one-time package valued at $20,000 which includes $12,000 in cash, mortgage assistance, and a year’s worth of free outdoor recreational activities. In all, the program will welcome more than 1,000 remote workers to the state over the next five years.
As part of the deal, participants are locked into a two-year contract. If they leave early, they have to give back the cash.
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