By JOHN RABY
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A program offering cash and free outdoor adventures to remote workers to move to West Virginia with the hope of offsetting population losses has added a fifth destination where out-of-state workers can apply to live.
The public-private program Ascend West Virginia said Tuesday that applications are being accepted for the scenic New River Gorge region in the southern part of the state that encompasses the nation’s newest national park. The New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville is the site of a festival every October where thrillseekers parachute off the 876-foot-high (267-meter) span.
Under the remote worker program, successful applicants will receive $12,000 along with free passes to indulge in whitewater rafting, golf, rock climbing, horseback riding, skiing and ziplining. The full relocation package is valued at more than $20,000.
Applications also are being accepted to four areas previously announced since the program launched in April 2021: the northern college town of Morgantown, the Greenbrier Valley in the southeastern corner of the state, the Elkins area in the northeastern part of the state, and the Eastern Panhandle.
The program has welcomed nearly 300 remote workers to the state with a 98% retention rate and is expected to bring more than 1,000 remote workers over the next six years, Ascend said in a statement.
“The growth of this program is a testament to the increased interest and positive buzz around West Virginia,” said Chelsea Ruby, cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism. “The residents of our mountain towns are some of the most warm and welcoming people you’ll find anywhere in the nation. They’re eagerly awaiting these new folks to move in.”
West Virginia lost a greater percentage of its residents than any other state. From 2010 to 2020, the population dropped 3.2%, or about 59,000 people. It’s been such a problem due to long-term declines in the coal, steel and other industries that West Virginia is now the only state with fewer residents than it had in 1950.
In an effort to reverse the exodus, West Virginia is leveraging one of its most appealing assets, its “almost heaven” natural beauty, in direct appeals to outdoor enthusiasts whose jobs enable them to work from anywhere they choose.
The program, which has drawn more than 20,000 applicants since its launch, was founded through a $25 million gift to West Virginia University by program founder and current Marshall University President Brad D. Smith and his wife, Alys. Brad Smith is the former executive chairman of Intuit.
The latest offering was announced on the state’s 160th birthday.
“Opening a new regional community is another great milestone for this program,” Brad Smith said.