BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. — Jill Urbanski is ready for a new adventure.
This February the lifelong-Chicagoland resident plans to close on a home in St. Joseph, Michigan, moving away from her family and friends.
“I’ve loved it, it’s been wonderful, it’s served me well, but my wants and needs have changed,” said Urbanski.
Urbanski is one of 20 out-of-state, remote workers selected by Cornerstone Alliance, a Berrien County economic development agency, for its “Move to Michigan” program.
“It was like winning a lottery,” said Urbanski. “I’ve been very cautiously optimistic because I didn't want to jinx it… but immediately [I] started letting my friends and family know that… there’s this opportunity to move to Michigan, they’re offering an incentive that is very attractive to me and I hope you’ll come visit.”
The initiative started in October. It offers people up to $15,000 toward a new home and the choice of two additional perks, like a gym membership and park pass, to those willing to relocate to Southwest Michigan. Those selected must purchase a home, at least $200,000, within four zip codes in or around Benton Harbor and St. Joseph.
“It’s beautiful,” said Urbanski. “I know that they've got a great artist vibe, a lot of local boutiques and things like that, cafes. Of course being drawn to the water is another one for me.”
There is a two-year minimum stay requirement and recipients must consider volunteering within the community .
Cornerstone Alliance says the idea formed a few years ago as a way to increase the area’s population, with the pandemic accelerating its implementation.
According to U.S. Census data, Berrien County has experienced a -2.2 percent change in its population from 2010 to 2019.
“We saw this as a great opportunity to jump on and say, ‘If you're thinking of moving because you now have the ability to have that big-city career, but you want a small town life, why not consider Southwest Michigan?’” said Christina Frank, vice president of external affairs.
The program originally targeted people in Chicagoland, but after receiving 300 applications from across the country, people from all over will be coming.
“Washington, Missouri, Illinois, a big one obviously, New York,” said Frank. “They're coming from companies such as CVS, Boeing, and Google.”
Cornerstone estimates it will bring $1.38 million in new spending to the region.
“It will obviously bring an impact to the state, local income taxes,” said Frank. “Our property taxes fund our schools, they fund our road repairs, that infrastructure, so there will be this, this enormous impact which will be felt in different layers.”
Cornerstone Alliance is not accepting new applications, however the organization plans to select a second round of workers within the next few months.
Money from a property Cornerstone sold is funding the program.
“I just feel like it's just going to allow me to have the space to tap into my creativity that much more so, making new friendships, of course, having new places to discover and hidden gems to find,” said Urbanski. “ I'm just super excited.”