CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – A program that provides $ 20,000 in cash and incentives for remote workers to move to West Virginia has attracted dozens of newcomers and is now accepting applications for a second host city.
Thousands of people asked about the possibility, and 53 new residents from far-away Germany are welcomed to the northern college town of Morgantown. Now the public-private program has entered a second phase in hopes of attracting new permanent residents to Lewisburg in the southeast corner of the state, the state tourism bureau said in a press release on Thursday.
The 2020 census found that West Virginia has lost more residents than any other state in the past decade and is now the only state with fewer than 1950 residents. Residents left the country to work in the coal, steel and other industries other industries were canceled. The country’s second largest coal producer, West Virginia, has lost 56% of its coal mining jobs since 2009 as power plants switch to renewable energy sources.
To reverse the Exodus, West Virginia is using one of its most attractive assets, its “almost heavenly” natural beauty, in direct appeal to outdoor enthusiasts whose jobs allow them to work from anywhere.
As part of the Remote Worker Program, overseas participants moving to West Virginia will receive $ 12,000 along with annual passes to go whitewater rafting, golf, climbing, horseback riding, skiing, and ziplining. The entire moving package is worth more than $ 20,000.
Morgantown is home to West Virginia University. On Saturdays, when the soccer team plays home games, it easily rises to the largest city in the state. Quintina Mengyan took the opportunity to move from Chicago last month and brought her boyfriend and dog with her.
As the customer service director of online ticket vendor Vivid Seats, Mengyan had noticed offers for similar programs elsewhere but was particularly drawn to an advertisement promoting the move to West Virginia.
After so many months working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, it “just felt like the walls were closing,” she said. “And it got to the point where I really had to rely on outdoor activities” to get out of her job.
“That’s when the idea came up,” she says. “I say, ‘Yeah, I’m just applying for fun. Then I started to think about it more seriously and thought, ‘I think I would really, really enjoy this.’
She is now busy making plans to attend the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers Games an hour’s drive north of Morgantown. She hopes to take a week off in October to explore West Virginia’s typically spectacular fall colors. And she’s already figured out that the state isn’t as flat as Chicago.
“We never realized how much a flat parking lot should be valued,” said Mengyan.
The 53 new residents come from 21 US states and Washington, DC. One of them is from Berlin. Everyone shares a love for the outdoors, but their fields of work vary widely, from healthcare to management, manufacturing, and technology, the tourism bureau said. Most are from California and their median income is around $ 105,000. If the families are included, the number of newcomers is 110.
With fewer than 1% of applicants being accepted for the Morgantown positions, the remote worker program encourages those who were not selected in the first phase to reapply. And it offers a consolation prize: $ 2,500 in mortgage aid for every 7,500 people who applied if they decide to move to West Virginia anyway.
Over the next five years, the program is expected to welcome more than 1,000 new teleworkers to the state.
Lewisburg, once voted “America’s Coolest Small Town,” has a population of around 4,000 and is close to the State Exhibition Center, just an hour from the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Lewisburg is “the perfect place to escape the big city life without sacrificing modern life,” said state tourism director Chelsea Ruby. “It’s a quaint small town with a charming downtown, thriving arts scene, and accessible outdoor recreation.”
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