Downtown Tulsa, as seen from The Gathering Place. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

It turns out that giving people free money to live in Tulsa was a more popular idea than anyone guessed.

In November, when the George Kaiser Family Foundation announced a recruiting effort where they would pay people $10,000 to move to Tulsa, foundation officials said the immediate response was “phenomenal.”

More than a month later, things haven’t slowed down. The effort, dubbed “Tulsa Remote” because it’s attempting to lure people from out of state, or even out of the country, to Tulsa to work remotely, has now received nearly 10,000 applications.

In fact it was such a success that program manager Aaron Bolzle said they’ve been given the green light to bring more people into Tulsa through the program in 2019 than originally expected.

“We’ve had to expand the program so we can invite more people,” Bolzle told The Frontier this week. “Originally we thought we’d bring 20-25 people in the first year. We’re definitely blowing past that.”

Bolzle said he anticipates bringing in the first bunch, roughly 20 to 25 people, in February and March. But there are so many worthy candidates that there will be an additional 20 to 25 invites going out for the summer, and likely more as 2019 continues.

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“We’ll evaluate it throughout the year, but when you look at the quality of the applicants, really the value that they will bring to Tulsa far exceeds the initial ($10,000) cost.”

The offer to move to Tulsa goes like this, Bolzle said: If selected, the invitees will receive $2,500 for moving expenses, then $500 a month for the first year. At the end of the 12 months, they will receive a $1,500 check.

And in that 12 months, Bolzle expects many will become full-fledged Tulsans.

“That’s really what has drawn us to the particular applicants we’ve liked the best, the most amazing aspect is the number of people truly motivated by the promise of Tulsa’s community,” he said. “The $10,000 figure is fairly inconsequential to most of them. The individuals we’ve picked seem to be motivated by the opportunities in Tulsa and the opportunity to be a part of the community and the change happening here.

“Our overall goal is to figure out how to invite people and integrate them into the community. I’ve joked that we don’t want it to just seem like a summer camp.”

Bolzle said if the program is as successful in 2019 as it appears it will be, he could see it continuing into future years.

But right now, the focus is on selecting the first group of invitees. Bolzle said he has whittled the first batch into a semifinal list, and he and his team have scheduled video interviews with the semifinalists for early January.

“I don’t want to give a hard number for how many people we’ll invite or how long the program will continue,” Bolzle said. “But it’s safe to say we’ve expanded the program far beyond its original boundaries. I would say the performance of the program is beating all expectations.”