Morgantown Summer 2021 Edition

IF you could keep your job and live anywhere at all, where would you live? It’s a question more people than ever are asking themselves. Employers and employees learned how to work from home in 2020 out of necessity, but in 2021 they know that remote work is not only possible—it can be preferable. By some estimates, almost half of salaried and professional employees can now do their jobs over the internet. The number of people who “telecommuted” pre-pandemic, as we called it back then? It’ll be double that, post-pandemic. Untethered from brick and mortar offices, these emancipated employees can live anywhere they can get online. And now WVU’s Brad & Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (Smith OEDC), in partnership with the state of West Virginia, is betting a lot of them would like to live where they find their vacation fun—where the raw, real outdoor adventures they usually savor during their weeks off are close by any day of the week. Launched on April 12, the Ascend WV remote worker relocation incentive program invites these newly free agents to consider bringing their jobs to West Virginia—in this initial stage, to Morgantown—and it offers support to help them get here and plug in. West Virginia is not the only state vying for this digital workforce—luring remote workers is just one aspect of the “Zoom boom,” the unex- pected ways the pandemic is changing the econ- omy. But here’s the kicker: Ascend WV leverages data showing that towns all across West Virginia sit close to as many outdoor adventure opportuni- ties as high-profile outdoor meccas like Asheville, North Carolina, and Boulder, Colorado—and a greater variety of those adventures than most. It’s a new way for Morgantown to think about itself, and it’s a point that sells to the kinds of energetic, independent people who make great friends and neighbors in any town they choose to call home. “Morgantown has the youth and the vi- brancy that come with a college town,” says Danny Twilley, assistant dean of the Smith OEDC. “It’s got the business development that a college town spurs. It’s got a pulse. And we basically have a trifecta of outdoor recreation with great paddling, great climbing, and great trails all close by. Morgantown is an outdoor town that doesn’t know it yet.” LIVE HERE AND BRING YOUR JOB WITH YOU The Ascend WV concept is simple: People who

can take their jobs anywhere they want are in- vited to apply for a package of support that helps them relocate and resettle in West Virginia—in this first part of the program, in Morgantown. It builds on the success of similar initiatives— most famously, Tulsa Remote. In 2018, the Tulsa, Oklahoma–headquartered George Kaiser Family Foundation offered $10,000 to anyone who would move to Tulsa for one year. It had never been done—no one knew what would happen. The program got more than 1,000 applicants on the first day. The point, of course, was not to host nomads for just one year, but to attract long-term, contributing members of Tulsa society. And in fact, Tulsa Remote has drawn more than 600 new residents and retained 90 percent past their first year. Similar programs have sprung up since in cit- ies like Savannah, Georgia, and Tucson, Arizona, and in states including Hawaii and Vermont. Programs differ in their offerings. Most include a financial incentive to offset the cost and inconvenience of uprooting and starting over, and Ascend WV will pay $12,000 over two years, with $10,000 spread across 12 monthly installments and $2,000 payable to anyone who stays for the entire two years. But it’s not a recruitment program, Twilley says—it’s a retention program. What makes a relocation incentive program work isn’t the mon- ey; it’s the programming that helps participants feel their new community’s charm and find by the end of it that they’ve put down roots. Here’s the Ascend WV package as it’s configured for Morgantown, laid out at ascendwv.com : a networking hub with co – working space Ascend WV is partnering with the Vantage Ventures business development initiative at WVU’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics to offer co-working space to program participants for the initial cohort. The partnership with the business college runs deep, explains Smith OEDC Program Coordinator Paris Winfrey. For participants who are new to remote work, the college is developing a remote worker certification pro- gram that will coach them in time manage- ment and other skills needed to succeed in an independent work environment. Ascend WV participants will also have access to the col- lege’s and university’s considerable entrepre- neurship support resources. For a participant who has aspirations of starting a business, this is an invaluable perk. The co-working space will serve as home base, the place where participants will access

SNAPSHOT OF MORGANTOWN LOCATION North–south and eastbound interstates, 1 hour from Pittsburgh, 4 hours from Washington, D.C.; daily round-trips to Baltimore- Washington and Pittsburgh international airports COST OF LIVING Median home cost 82% of national average, cost of living 90% of national average TAXES State tax burden middle of the pack

BROADBAND Xfinity cable

internet and some additional options

EDUCATION Public schools

consistently among the best in the state AMENITIES Thriving arts, global cuisine, MLB Draft baseball, Big 12 sports

NETWORKING AND SUPPORT Generation

Morgantown, three Rotary clubs, strong entrepreneurship support HEALTH CARE A medical school, county and research hospitals, Level I trauma center

22 MORGANTOWN SUMMER 2021

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