Apr. 13—CHARLESTON — When West Virginia native Brad Smith visited Bluefield in March 2019 to announce the location of an Intuit Prosperity Hub here, he said “giving back” is part of the values he learned growing up in the Mountain State.
Those values were again reflected Monday for his home state when Gov. Jim Justice announced that with the help of Smith and his wife, Alys, a program called Ascend WV is being initiated.
The program, which targets professionals who are also outdoor enthusiasts “will allow adventurers to enjoy world-class recreation, uncrowded spaces, and a low cost of living while staying fully connected to their jobs, and it comes with the country’s best remote worker incentive package: $12,000 and a year’s worth of free outdoor recreation.”
“Born and raised in Kenova, it has always been my dream to give back to the state that forever has my heart,” said Smith, Intuit Executive Chairman and co-founder of the Wing 2 Wing Foundation. “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.”
“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. “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 (HB 2026) 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.”
Part of the plan included legislation that is designed to reform the state’s corporate income tax laws to make West Virginia “a haven for remote workers from all across the country,” he added.
Announcement of the program followed the Smiths’ $25 million gift to WVU’s Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (Smith OEDC) in late 2020.
Justice said that in just six short months, the Smith OEDC 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.
The first three host cities will be Morgantown, Shepherdstown and Lewisburg.
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.
According to the announcement, thirty-nine percent of urban dwellers claim the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted them to consider leaving their metropolitan homes for less crowded spaces.
“Everything that makes West Virginia a great place to visit makes it an even better place to live and work,” said Secretary Chelsea Ruby of the Department of Tourism. “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 coworking 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.
“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,” WVU President Gordon Gee said in the announcement. “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, Justice’s announcement said.
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.
“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,” said Danny Twilley, Assistant Dean of the Smith OEDC. “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.”
Justice said 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.
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, the announcement said. Several other West Virginia towns are taking advantage of remote work trends and looking to create local programs and initiatives.
“Our vision for Ascend WV is that it will grow to become 55-counties strong,” said Alys Smith. “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 Ascend WV 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. View the new Ascend WV website to learn more about the program, view the full incentive package, and to apply.
Smith said in March 2019 that Intuit, an international technology information company that owns online products like TurboTax, QuickBooks and Mint, has a philosophy of powering prosperity and that was one of the reasons that led them to Bluefield as part of Mission Hope, which started in 2016 as a way to reach out to communities that have been hit hard economically.
Intuit partnered with Alorica, an international personnel management company, and up to 500 jobs are planned for Bluefield with more than 250 already on board helping online customers.
— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]