West Virginia Adding Second City to Remote Worker Program Offering $12K to Move to State

West Virginia is adding a second city, Lewisburg, to its remote worker public-private program offering out-of-state participants $12,000 to move to the state, the Associated Press reported.

The program first selected 53 out-of-state resident applicants, including one from Germany, to live in Morgantown, a northern college town. The move to attract more workers follows the U.S. Census Bureau's 2020 report that revealed West Virginia lost more residents over the past 10 years than all 49 other states.

The $12,000 offer to move to Lewisburg, where roughly 4,000 live in the state's southeast, is accompanied by other incentives for a package worth over $20,000, including annual passes to activities such as whitewater rafting and horseback riding for selected applicants.

West Virginia Tourism Director Chelsea Ruby calls Lewisburg "the perfect spot to escape big-city life without sacrificing modern living. It's a picture-perfect small town with a charming downtown, thriving arts scene, and accessible outdoor recreation."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tourists on Border of West Virginia
West Virginia is adding a second city to its remote worker program offering participants $12,000 to move to the state. Above, tourists enjoy the view at the Big Schloss (2,964 feet), the peak of the Ridge and Valley Appalachians, on the border of Virginia and West Virginia on August 8, 2020. Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

The 2020 census found that West Virginia is the only state with fewer residents than it had in 1950. Residents left as jobs in the coal, steel and other industries were eliminated. The nation's second-largest coal producer, West Virginia has lost 56 percent of its coal mining jobs since 2009 as power plants turn toward renewable energy sources.

To begin 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.

Under the remote worker program, out-of-state participants who move to West Virginia will also receive annual passes to indulge in golf, rock climbing, skiing and ziplining.

Morgantown is home to West Virginia University. On Saturdays when the football team plays home games, it easily balloons to the largest city in the state. Quintina Mengyan jumped at the opportunity to move from Chicago last month, bringing her boyfriend and her dog.

A client services director for online ticket seller Vivid Seats, Mengyan had noticed offerings for similar programs elsewhere, but was particularly attracted to an advertisement encouraging the move to West Virginia.

After so many months working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it "just felt like the walls are closing in," she said. "And it got to the point where I really had to rely on outdoor activities" to get out of her work space.

"That's what kind of sprouted the idea," she said. "I'm like, 'Yeah, I'll just apply for fun. Then I started thinking about it more seriously and I'm like, 'I think I'd really, really enjoy this.'"

She's now busy making plans to attend Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers games an hour's drive north of Morgantown. She hopes to take a week off in October to explore West Virginia's typically spectacular fall colors. And she's already discovered that the state isn't flat, like Chicago.

"We never realized how much a flat parking space was meant to be appreciated until now," Mengyan said.

The 53 new residents come from 21 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. One of them is from Berlin. All share a love for the outdoors, but their fields of work vary widely, from health care to management, manufacturing and technology, the tourism office said. The greatest number are from California, and their average income is about $105,000. When families are included, the number of new residents is 110.

Because fewer than 1 percent of applicants were accepted for the Morgantown openings, the remote worker program is encouraging those who weren't chosen in the first phase to apply again. And it's offering a consolation prize: $2,500 in mortgage assistance to all 7,500 people who applied, if they decide to move to West Virginia anyway.

Over the next five years the program plans to welcome more than 1,000 new remote workers to the state.

Lewisburg, once voted America's "Coolest Small Town," has about 4,000 residents and is near the state fairgrounds, within an hour of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

West Virginia College Football
West Virginia is adding a second city to its remote worker program offering participants $12,000 to move to the state. Above, West Virginia football players celebrate with fans at the conclusion of an NCAA college football game against James Madison on August 31, 2019, in Morgantown. Raymond Thompson/AP Photo