Editorials, Opinion

Ascend WV is not the remote work program we need

We’ve all seen those wireless carrier commercials that offer  101 incentives to switch from your current cell phone provider to them: The best — and most affordable — deal on a phone plan; the newest, fanciest smartphone for free; and all these bonuses like one-month subscriptions to streaming services included. Meanwhile, existing customers face increasing prices for monthly plans that offer less and less and have to fight to get a phone upgrade.

West Virginia’s new remote worker incentive program feels like that.

We love the idea of a remote worker program. But we were hoping for something that focused more on creating opportunities and incentives for people to stay in West Virginia. A big reason the state has lost population over the years is because there is little economic opportunity for the young and educated. What would be ideal is a remote worker program that partnered with out-of-state businesses to take advantage of West Virginia’s best and brightests’ skills while still allowing them to live and work here.

But we got the opposite. Instead of investing in the talent already here, Acsend WV seeks to filch young, intelligent, largely white-collar workers from other states. And to do that, the program offers $12,000 cash and about another $8,000 worth of park passes for outdoor activities.

This feels like a slap in the face for the young people who are fighting to stay in the place they call home.

That $12,000 is almost half a down payment for a house, or about a year’s worth of rent for a middle-priced apartment. Current Morgantown residents are struggling to afford housing here because prices are so high compared to wages. And all these remote workers being financially incentivized to come here are already making more money than current residents. With the exception of Kentucky, all of West Virginia’s bordering states have higher median incomes, according to U.S. census data from 2019, but West Virginia has a much lower cost of living than Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, and a comparable cost of living to Ohio.

In other words, potential remote workers are already making more money than people already living and working in West Virginia, and they’ll be saving money by moving here from places with higher costs of living. These are not people who need additional financial incentive to come here.

We’d much rather see this money be invested into the young people who want to stay. Use it to help them buy housing here and to connect with companies that will allow them to work remotely.

The powers that be in West Virginia keep scratching their heads and asking why young people — and educated people — keep leaving in droves. This is why. Because the state keeps communicating that it doesn’t care about them — from the laws it passes to the incentives and perks it gives to outsiders. The Ascend WV program, as it currently stands, is just one more thing that makes West Virginia feel like “Almost Heaven” for everyone except those of us born and raised here.

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