Governor launches "Ascend WV" remote-worker program

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Governor launches
Hikers ascend the Allegheny Front at Dolly Sods in northeastern West Virginia. (Photo courtesy W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice today announced the launch of the state's premier remote-work program, aimed at recruiting outdoor enthusiast professionals to the Mountain State.

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Called "," the program is being supported by West Virginia native and Intuit Chairman Brad D. Smith and his wife, Alys, and will allow adventurers to enjoy world-class recreation, uncrowded spaces, and its low cost-of-living while staying fully connected to their jobs.

And it comes with the nation’s best remote worker incentive package—$12,000 and a year’s worth of free outdoor recreation.

Gov. Justice, Intuit Chairman Brad D. Smith and his wife, Alys, and West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee gathered virtually for the event this morning and enjoyed support from local mayors and county officials from the program’s — Morgantown, Shepherdstown, and Lewisburg.

Gov. Justice lauded the initiative, which is nationally unique, as a game-changer for the state, which though sparsely populated is located at the very center of the eastern U.S.

“Today, we are rolling out the red carpet and inviting remote workers from across the country to make 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' their new home,” Justice said.

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“I couldn’t be more proud of the dream team that we’ve assembled to get this program off the ground. From the generous support of our private partners, Brad and Alys Smith, to my landmark legislation passed by the Legislature, and the educational foundation laid by WVU, this collaboration has developed a program that will leave a lasting impact on our great state forevermore.”

During Monday’s event, Justice ceremonially signed House Bill 2026, which is designed to reform West Virginia’s corporate income-tax laws to make West Virginia a haven for remote workers from all across the country.

The unveiling of Ascend WV comes after the Smiths’ transformational $25 million gift to WVU’s Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative in late 2020.

Kayakers explore the cliffs along Summersville Lake near the New River Gorge. (Photo courtesy W.Va. Dept. of Commerce)

In just six short months, the Smith collaborative paired up with representatives from the West Virginia Department of Tourism and the West Virginia Department of Economic Development to craft a program that carries out their shared vision.

Smith, who is also co-founder of the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, emphasized the state's quality of life during the ceremony.

“Born and raised in Kenova, it has always been my dream to give back to the state that forever has my heart,” Smith said.

“Together, Alys and I set forth a vision to create a program that would allow West Virginia to capitalize on workforce trends by leveraging our incredible outdoor recreation assets.

"As West Virginians, we ascend mountains every day. Here, we’re inviting remote workers from across the country to join us in our ascent to rise to new heights, together.”

A remote workforce recruitment program, Ascend WV offers a relocation package valued at more than $20,000, which includes $12,000 cash and a year’s worth of free outdoor recreation donated by more than a dozen outfitters from across the state.

West Virginia is the first and only state to promote its natural assets for talent attraction and retention. This comes when Americans are spending more time in the outdoors than ever before.

Thirty-nine percent of urban dwellers claim the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted them to consider leaving their metropolitan homes for less crowded spaces.

Secretary Chelsea Ruby of the Department of Tourism underscored the role outdoor recreation plays in attracting new residents.

“Everything that makes West Virginia a great place to visit makes it an even better place to live and work,” Roby said.

“With remote work becoming a permanent option for more and more professionals, we’re excited to introduce them to the blend of adventure and serenity that makes life in West Virginia a permanent vacation.”

The Ascend WV program also provides free co-working space where remote workers will have modern amenities to stay connected and access to more than $1,200 in free outdoor gear rentals for use with family and friends.

Additionally, participants will be invited to networking events with state business leaders, guided outdoor excursions, and have the chance to earn remote work certifications through WVU along with access to the university’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.

WVU President Gordon Gee said he was enthusiastic about the role the university will play in refashioning the Mountain State.

“As a land-grant institution, West Virginia University is committed to supporting the needs of our local communities and our state by providing opportunities to pursue higher education,” Gee said.

“Thanks to the support and vision of Brad and Alys Smith, our outdoor recreation initiative, coupled with this remote worker program, is now well-positioned to take advantage of this unique moment in our history. I am confident this program will ignite an interest in West Virginia, as well as boost West Virginia’s economy.”

While COVID highlighted the popularity of remote work, it’s a trend that predates the pandemic and is here to stay. A Gartner survey found 47 percent of company executives will allow employees to work from home full-time after the pandemic, and major corporations from the Silicon Valley to Wall Street, and everywhere in between, are making the shift to a permanent remote workforce.

Danny Twilley, Assistant Dean of the Smith OEDC, added that West Virginia provided the ideal environment for family growth.

“With quality-of-life being a central component for choosing where to live and the increased ability to work remotely, our program is bringing these ideas front and center,” Twilley said.

“West Virginia’s outdoor assets are unparalleled and provide the perfect opportunity to grow the West Virginia family by offering our new residents a great place to work, live, and play.”

Since the pandemic began just one year ago, nearly 16 million have made the major decision to relocate. West Virginia has an opportunity to attract those looking for a better work-life balance to experience the state’s extraordinary landscapes, roaring rivers, and vibrant small towns. With the average remote worker salary exceeding $90,000, the program stands to generate a lasting economic impact.

Secretary Mitch Carmichael of the Department of Economic Development underscored the dramatic increase in economic development the collaborative could attract.

“By inviting these high-earning workers to move to the Mountain State, they will generate a significant and lasting economic impact,” Carmichael said.

“Thanks to the Governor’s Remote Worker legislation, which gained bi-partisan support and passage by the Legislature, we’ve taken this incentive one step further and modernized our tax structure to be more friendly to this new and growing line of work. I could not be more excited about this initiative.”

While three Ascend WV program cities are preparing to welcome the first classes of remote workers, leaders are already exploring ways to expand the program to additional communities. Several other West Virginia towns are taking advantage of remote work trends and looking to create local programs and initiatives.

Alys Smith said the collaborative hopes to flourish quickly in other state communities.

“Our vision for Ascend WV is that it will grow to become 55-counties strong,” she said.

“We know that each community in West Virginia has something unique to offer. Whether it’s proximity to outdoor recreation or warm small-town charm, our hope is that this program’s leadership team can grow Ascend WV’s reach to support more workers in more communities in the years to come.”

Applications for are now open for the first 50 spots in the host city of Morgantown. Application windows for the program’s sister cities of Shepherdstown and Lewisburg will be announced at a later date.

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