West Virginia cash-for-worker program adds 4th destination

Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 3:57 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A program offering cash and free outdoor adventures to remote workers to move to West Virginia with the hope of offsetting population losses has welcomed 143 new residents in the year since it launched, officials announced Tuesday.

The public-private program Ascend West Virginia said it has added a fourth destination where out-of-state workers can apply to live. Applications are being accepted immediately for the Elkins area in the northeastern part of the state.

Elkins is on the western edge of the Monongahela National Forest and is within reasonable distance of skiing and golf resorts. The town of about 6,900 residents hosts the Mountain State Forest Festival every fall.

Applications also are being accepted to the three areas previously announced since the program launched in April 2021: the northern college town of Morgantown, the Greenbrier Valley in the southeastern corner of the state, and the Eastern Panhandle.

Under the remote worker program, successful applicants will receive $12,000 along with free passes to indulge in whitewater rafting, golf, rock climbing, horseback riding, skiing and ziplining. The full relocation package is valued at more than $20,000.

“When we launched the program just over a year ago, no one could have predicted its immense success,” Brad D. Smith, who is the program’s founder and current president of Marshall University, said in a statement. “We have recruited a tremendous amount of talent to our mountains, and the applications continue to roll in. We are thrilled to be expanding the program to a fourth location for those seeking a better work-life balance.”

West Virginia lost a greater percentage of its residents than any other state. From 2010 to 2020, the population dropped 3.2%, or about 59,000 people. It’s been such a problem due to long-term declines in the coal, steel and other industries that West Virginia is now the only state with fewer residents than it had in 1950.

In an effort to reverse the exodus, West Virginia is leveraging one of its most appealing assets, its “almost heaven” natural beauty, in direct appeals to outdoor enthusiasts whose jobs enable them to work from anywhere they choose.

The program has drawn more than 20,000 applicants since its launch. It has welcomed 87 new residents to Morgantown and 37 to the Greenbrier Valley. Others will relocate to the Eastern Panhandle early next year from 24 U.S. states and Canada. The program said its retention rate is 98%.

“Our mountain towns have some of the most warm and welcoming residents you’ll find anywhere in the nation — they’re waiting with open arms for these new folks to move in,” said Chelsea Ruby, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism.

The program plans to welcome more than 1,000 new remote workers to the state over the next five years. The program was founded through a $25 million gift to West Virginia University by Smith, the former executive chairman of Intuit, and his wife, Alys.