One of the common sayings among folks who now live and work in West Virginia, but were not born here is, “I got here as soon as I could.” That is a heartfelt endorsement of life in the Mountain State delivered by individuals who have found their version of “almost heaven” in West Virginia.
Unfortunately, our state does not have enough of those transplants. In fact, West Virginia has been hurt by outward migration, particularly of young people who complain about the limited job opportunities here.
But now there is a new initiative aimed at attracting people to West Virginia to not only work but also play. It is called the Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative at WVU. The University explains that the goal is to “leverage West Virginia’s outdoor recreational assets to stimulate and improve economic opportunities throughout the state.”
The initiative is well funded, thanks to Brad Smith and his wife Alys. They are putting $25 million toward the program. That’s $25 million!
Brad Smith grew up in Kenova, West Virginia, graduated from Marshall (two years ago he donated $25 million to Marshall’s business college) and then moved to Silicon Valley. Smith helped build Intuit into the top provider of small business accounting software. He stepped down as CEO in 2019 and now serves as chairman of the executive board.
Smith has never forgotten his roots, and he believes West Virginia’s natural beauty and recreational opportunities can serve as a draw for remote workers, making West Virginia a business “Start-Up State.”
“With the right mix of creativity and resources, we can take advantage of those outdoor opportunities to welcome a new generation with the capability to revitalize the state’s economy,” he said.
The country was slowly moving in the direction of remote working, but the pandemic has speeded up the pace significantly. A survey by Harvard Business School suggests that “at least 16 percent of employees will remain at-home workers long after Covid-19 recedes.”
The WVU initiative hopes to capitalize on that shift, focusing on the allure of outdoor recreational assets including whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, swimming, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, camping and more.
According to WVU, “The remote worker recruitment initiative is designed to grow the West Virginia family by attracting and retaining individuals to the state who have a shared sense of purpose, who appreciate the beauty of the state and its outdoor assets and who want to make a positive impact on the state.”
Baby boomers are known as the workaholics. The professionals in the generations that have followed are more interested in a balance between work and life, and an element of the “life” part is play.
West Virginia is a natural playground, and Smith’s investment along with WVU’s expertise, maybe… just maybe West Virginia can follow the lead of states like Colorado and North Carolina and become a home/work/play destination for young professionals.