Thanks to Shift South, 24 families from 11 states now call Natchez home
Published 11:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2022
NATCHEZ — The Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen are in the midst of budget season. One thing they are considering is extending the successful Shift South program, which offers incentives for families who can work remotely to move to Natchez and make the city their home.
The program means additional property taxes and increased sales tax revenues for the city.
Chandler Russ, executive director of Natchez Inc., which operates the program, said of 30 original spots, 24 have been filled.
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“The average income of those who have moved in and taken advantage of the program is $120,000,” Russ said.
The city is considering budgeting for another 20 or 30 spots, he said.
Criteria for those who seek to participate in Shift South includes purchasing a home for $150,000 within the city limits of Natchez and working remotely for an employer outside the region.
“We believe that another 10 or 12 additional people moved into Adams County because of the Shift South program,” he said. “The incentive is only available to those who move into the City of Natchez. But these couldn’t find the house they wanted in Natchez, so they purchased in Adams County, even though it meant they didn’t qualify for the program. Because they didn’t go through the program, we don’t have any way to track them. However, we think they are along the same lines in income.”
Russ said lack of available housing stock in the city is what is limiting the program right now.
“We definitely would have subscribed all of the 30 spots in the Shift South program, but we had that big housing boom and a lot of the city inventory got eaten up. The biggest thing is participants must buy a house valued at $150,000 or greater inside the city limits. That bottleneck is still there. We have somewhat of a housing shortage inside the city,” he said.
Despite the housing situation, the city wants to extend the program moving forward, potentially offering the incentives to another 20 or 30 participants.
The incentive funds are maxed out at $6,100.
“We will reimburse up to $2,500 in moving expenses,” Russ said. “Once we verify and see that they have purchased a home of the value needed, they can submit receipts for up to $2,500 in moving expenses. Sometimes those moving expenses have been as little as $1,500, but most max out their relocation expense.”
In addition to the reimbursement of location expenses, successful Shift South applicants receive payment of $300 per month for the next 12 months.
“The reason we spread it out and don’t do a lump sum payment is we are guarding against someone coming in and taking the $6,000 and using it to flip a house or something like that,” he said. “We have to verify they are a resident living in Natchez in order to continue to receive those payments.”
Natchez was the first city in Mississippi to offer a program such as Shift South, but others have caught on since.
“We built a model for this program based on property tax and sales tax collections that the city would recoup its money, depending on the size of the house they buy, in anywhere from 13 to 18 months,” Russ said.
The power of a press release led to news of the program going “super viral,” he said.
“We started out doing traditional media. We put out a press release about the Shift South program to newspapers and all of our media contact. The Democrat wrote a story on it. The Associated Press picked it up and from there it went crazy out there. It went super viral over about a five- or six-week period to the point that every major media outlet put it up. I mean CBS, ABC, NBC, MSN, Google. Visit Natchez had its publicist do an analysis and they determined we got $1.6 million worth of free advertising out of that press release.”
Additionally, advertising funds were later spent on social media, targeting New Orleans, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta.
“What we were seeing originally was southerners in big cities who were tired of those big cities,” Russ said.
Another round of targeted advertising is planned for residents in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
“Of course, budget wise, we don’t have the money to go place an ad in a major publication in New York. This is much more targeted than that. We are looking for clicks and hoping we hit the right person at the right time,” he said.
Other communities have copied the Natchez approach.
“What we are seeing now are a lot of copy cats in the market,” Russ said. “Tulsa was doing this before us and Savannah was doing it a little bit before us, but now there are 50 or 60 places. I know in Northwest Arkansas, they are offering $10,000 and a mountain bike.”