MORGANTOWN — “I may have spent the first 22 years of my life dreaming of a way out, but I can tell you with clear eyes and full heart I’ve spent every day since looking for a way back home.”
Intuit executive and Kenova native Brad Smith hopes his words inspire others to seek out the West Virginia he loves, building a better future for themselves and the state through a new remote worker program which announced three initial host communities March 23 – Morgantown, Shepherdstown and Lewisburg.
The program, supported by the State and West Virginia University through a $25 million gift from Smith and his wife, Alys, is differentiated from others by its unique outdoor recreation components. The program targets fully employed individuals from outside the state who can work anywhere and want to be part of a contemporary, experience-driven lifestyle. Outdoor enthusiasts or young families who are inspired to help create a more diverse, inclusive and purposeful community will be given preference in a competitive application process.
“Alys and I are committed to the success of this program and its ability to leverage West Virginia’s outdoor assets to attract fresh talent, cultivate dynamic communities and continue to fuel the entrepreneurial and innovative thinking that are hallmarks of the state,” Smith said.
The three phase-one communities were selected by a team composed of members from WVU and the West Virginia Department of Tourism who created a framework to serve as a guide for understanding a community’s current readiness to stand up a remote worker program.
“The three communities – Morgantown, Shepherdstown and Lewisburg — all have unique characteristics that make them great communities but also have similar traits that are attractive to remote workers,” Danny Twilley, assistant dean of WVU’s Brad & Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, said. “These towns have a recipe that make them vibrant places to live with great local food, shopping, arts, culture and tremendous outdoor recreation assets. When you pair this with access to good schools, medical care and access to transportation, we have three communities that will appeal to remote workers who want to have a great place to live, work and play.”
Twilley also noted some specific differences between the three locations that would be attractive to remote workers.
“Morgantown is viewed as a large, vibrant college town that is small enough to make residents feel a part of a community but has the amenities of a much larger area,” Twilley said. “Meanwhile, Lewisburg is a small community that is known as a destination for visitors to West Virginia with its quaint main street and beauty. And Shepherdstown is a historic college town on the banks of the Potomac River that allows for convenience to larger metropolitan areas.”
The OEDC, in partnership with the State, will work to leverage experts in implementation and retention, outdoor recreation asset development and community engagement, providing the groundwork to have this program attract and retain new residents to the state, while helping other communities increase their readiness for a remote worker program over time. The Smiths’ goal is that the program is ultimately “55 counties strong.”
“People are fleeing the vertical cities, and West Virginia is uniquely positioned to attract them,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “I firmly believe that this program, which aligns perfectly with our University’s land-grant mission, will ignite West Virginia’s economy, develop world-class recreational infrastructure and expand outdoor educational opportunities.”
Learn more about remote work programs in West Virginia at wvremotework.com.