During Monday’s legislative interim meetings, Chelsea Ruby, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism, and Danny Twilley, Assistant Vice President of the West Virginia University Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, gave the West Virginia Legislative Oversight Commission on Workforce Investment for Economic Development an update on Ascend WV.
In exchange for moving to the West Virginia towns of Morgantown, Shepherdstown, and Lewisburg, workers were paid $12,000, given access to professional development through West Virginia University, co-working facilities, and one year of free passes and two years of free rentals for outdoor recreation as part of the Ascend WV Program.
For the Ascend program in Morgantown, 7500 people applied for 50 spots. The applications came from all 50 states and from more than 70 countries.
Of the people who eventually moved to Morgantown, 23 percent originally hailed from the Mountain State. One of the new Morgantown residents hailed from Berlin.
“We’ve really seen a very diverse set of applicants,” said Ruby.
Contrary to earlier estimates, the program didn’t primarily appeal to people working remotely in the tech industry.
“There’s healthcare, computer systems, manufacturing, management, and then professional services,” she said.
The primary challenge was finding housing for new residents. Ruby indicated that the tax incentives from the recent passing of the Build WV Act will make it easier to find housing for new residents.
“The hope is that we can find some private developers to help us do that work rather than the state or WVU taking on that type of rehabilitation,” Ruby said.
Danny Twilley told legislatures that Ascend WV doesn’t just incentivize individuals to West Virginia, but tries to help them join the local community with events.
“We ask them to bring their families along with their significant others because, again, it’s all about building that sense of community and sense of belongingness,” said Twilley.
Secretary Ruby said the program was successful in presenting the state as a place to work remotely and even retire. She added that data shows Ascend advertising having a positive effect on the state’s image.
“The exposure of this Ascend program is really starting to get some traction. People are really starting to think about West Virginia as a place to work remotely,” she said. “That data shows Ascend advertising having a positive effect on the state’s image. These tourism ads layering on top of the remote worker ads are also starting to help, and we are continuing to improve West Virginia’s image overall.”
Ascend WV looks to expand to 1000 remote workers across five West Virginia towns.