Editor’s Note: Today we continue our series about keeping the state’s youngest citizens in West Virginia. We’ve previously looked at the reasons why some people feel compelled to leave, but today, we’re taking a more positive approach. There are many young West Virginians with ideas about what can be done to help people stay.
From 1990 to 2000, and then again from 2000 to 2010, West Virginia saw slight increases in population, according to U.S. Census figures. But there’s also some bad news when it comes to population stats.
According to a report titled “West Virginia’s Young Talent: A Statistical Portrait,” written by state demographer Christiadi, between 2000 to 2010, the state’s population of people between the ages of 18 and 44 decreased by about 7 percent.
This isn’t good news for people like Paul Daugherty. He’s the president of Philanthropy West Virginia, and he works with Generation West Virginia, an organization that strives to serve the needs of young professionals in the state.
“Over the past decade, since I got out of undergrad, and came into the workforce in West Virginia, I noticed that separation, that discussion for decades now young people were leaving. People were complaining about it. I came from Doddridge County, people were saying to me, go, travel the world, these problems will be here 30 years from now. Deal with that when you come back. I was a bit stubborn, saying why should I leave when we could address it now,” he said.
Generation West Virginia has put together a strategic plan to keep young people in the state. This includes: determining what issues young people care about, and cultivating relationships with organizations who promote these issues, as well as improving relationships with groups that represent young people.
Rose Angela Reed works as a real estate, and legal assistant for a real estate attorney in Morgantown and bartends part-time.
“Charleston is a good starting place. It’s the capitol, you have government, and you have more chemical jobs. They also have a ton of activities; it’s a thriving place for young professionals. They have something going on every weekend,” she said.
Several young West Virginians say there is a lack of cultural opportunities outside of the bigger cities.
“I often think about moving to Pittsburgh because of the art scene. Because there’s galleries, there’s so much more going on,” said Jillian Kelly, an artist who lives in Morgantown and manages a lingerie store.
“We really don’t have that here which is a shame because there are so many local artists. I want to live here, I like living here. When that’s what you want to do, you kind of have to go where that is. That’s a shame because there are a lot of artists here.”
But it’s also about building a community for many young West Virginians.
“I guess maybe you could call it quality of life. Having access to the types of things that one would want for a good life outside of employment. Access to arts, to museums, to people who you would consider your peers,” said Ashley Lawson, a West Virginia Wesleyan College professor.
“That hasn’t been the case here, compared to other places I’ve lived.”
No matter the reasons why people leave, or why they choose to stay, younger West Virginians do want the state to succeed. And many want to be a part of the process, to help transform the state into something better.
“We have to go back to how we package ourselves. We do need to expand our job opportunity; we need more private venture opportunities. Whether they are small entrepreneur based or larger efforts. We need diversity,” said Paul Daugherty.
“We are a state rooted in the natural resource industry, but at the same point we need to look at other options.”
“It’s going to take all of us to rebuild the state. It’s going to take all of us coming together as a community and going ‘these are the problems, these are what’s causing the problems, how do we fix this, to really make this a strong state that we can really be proud of,” said Heather Sammons, a Point Pleasant native and graduate of West Virginia University.
Perhaps the biggest reason why they feel the way that they do, is because they recognize how unique West Virginia really is, like Jocelyn and Matt Crawford of Charleston.
“It’s not six degrees of Kevin Bacon here, it’s three degrees of Bob Wise. You get to Bob Wise in three people,” said Jocelyn Crawford.
“Everybody that I work with knows my youngest brother. I know how people talk about how small the world is when you get to West Virginia. It’s so nice that everybody knows everybody and every body likes everybody, that’s something about West Virginia is nice,” said Matt Crawford.