JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Remote workers looking to call Johnson City home will soon visit the city as they decide whether or not to accept the offer to the Johnson City Remote program.
The program is a partnership between Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (NeTREP), Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association, VISIT Johnson City and other local partners. The program offers up to $5,000 for people to move to and work remotely in Johnson City or Washington County, among other incentives.
Mitch Miller, CEO of NeTREP, said they have a group that has been meeting monthly to go through the applications. Their hope is to have 30 to 40 people take part in the first year of the program.
As of Wednesday, August 11, he said they had received 82 applicants. Of those applications, they’ve extended offers to eight people who were among some of the first to apply. While there is no set deadline to accept the offer, Miller said he expects they have 30 days to make that decision.
The group has also been invited to visit Johnson City the second weekend in September for a familiarization tour. That will include not only a few scheduled events, but also the opportunity for applicants and their families to explore the region.
As for the career fields the applicants work in, Miller said it’s a mix of people from medical invoicing and billing to cybersecurity and IT. The majority of applications are coming from Nashville, Florida, and Chicago according to Miller.
Miller said he expects to have the next round of offers out in the next two to three weeks.
“We’ve been really encouraged by the number of applicants, some of the things we’ve seen in their application,” said Miller. “I get the impression that in the first year, we’re probably going to hit that number, and it’s highly likely we may want to go back and reevaluate the program and see if there are any other communities interested in growing this thing across the region.”
The expectation is not only for the people to come and work in Johnson City, but to truly become part of the community. Miller said when reviewing applications they looked at not only the ability to work remotely but interest in the community.
“It’s great that someone comes here, establishes a home here, but we want long-term impact, and I think getting someone involved with a non-profit board and looking at possible real estate opportunities for investments downtown,” said Miller. “Those are the types of things we really hope to see kind of take it to another level.”
Miller emphasized the importance of working with different industries and backgrounds when building this program.
“We’re working together; we’re marketing together; there’s a lot of similarities in both of those aspects therein,” said Miller. “To me, I think that’s something that will continue — how we look at marketing the region and hitting every economic base instead of just operating in our silo.”
One such person who helped is Jose Castillo who runs the co-working community Spark Plaza.
Miller said having the perspective of someone who owns a business dedicated to remote workers and creating a community for them was key in getting the applicants tapped into a network of people who have already chosen Johnson City as their place to work.
Castillo will be part of the group welcoming the first round of applicants.
“Our plan is not just to show them not just co-working spaces, physical places that they can work, which we have here, but the community of people,” said Castillo. “It’s who is already working here, the people they can connect with, all the other events and organizations they can be a part of from Founders Forge, to a TriDev meet-up to just coffee around the corner.”
Castillo refers to it not just as “remote work”, but as “remote life.” He said a place to work, like Spark Plaza, is just one piece of the puzzle. Castillo said he wanted to bring their expertise of what is needed in a home and community as well as having a workplace filled with like-minded people.
However, Castillo said remote workers moving to the city isn’t something new.
“We have somebody reach out to us almost every single day who is from outside the region that is looking for a space to work,” said Castillo. “We have had people move here for 12 years, but we’re seeing a huge demand in growth right now of people making the move.”
The community was one of the draws for remote workers David Juboor and Lauren Banawa.
“It’s nice to have a nice community around that’s wanting to stay there, not so transient, so it’s a really nice environment here,” said Banawa.
Originally from Florida, Banawa said she always grew up near a large city and wanted to be somewhere quieter. She also liked the appeal of the mountains.
Juboor said Johnson City checked off all the boxes when it came to want-to-haves and must-haves.
“We wanted a place that didn’t have state income tax,” said Juboor. “There are definitely essentials we need as remote workers like internet infrastructure is a really big thing that we kind of need in a town.”
Other essentials included good phone service and places, like Spark Plaza, where they can work late or off-hours.
Juboor, originally from Philadelphia, also said it was good to see the support for entrepreneurs in the Johnson City community — something he said he saw a lot of in the Northeast, but not as much living in Florida.
Both Miller and Castillo said they have spoken to remote workers who were interested in the program, but decided to skip the incentive and just move to Johnson City on their own. They attribute this to the marketing of all that Johnson City has to offer.
“So the money, it’s a little small thing over here the big piece is that we’re telling the story to a broader audience to say, ‘this is what you’re looking for? We’re the best fit. Come and hang with us,'” said Castillo.
Those interested in the Johnson City Remote program, click here.