By Matt Young, West Virginia Press Association
ELKINS, W.Va. – Ascend West Virginia announced on Tuesday that the program’s fourth group of recruits will soon be making their way to the Mountain State.
Ascend’s newest class will be located in the greater Elkins community. Morgantown was selected as the program-area for the initial group, followed by both the Eastern Panhandle and the Greenbrier Valley.
“I am thrilled for the greater Elkins-area to join the Ascend family,” Elkins Mayor Jerry Marco said at the time of the announcement. “To be able to share our little slice of heaven that we have here is paramount.”
“It’s the people who make the magic happen in West Virginia,” Marco continued. “When you pair that with the natural beauty, and the fact that we’re nestled in the mountains, it’s just a tremendous experience.”
Ascend provides a $12,000 cash-incentive to remote workers selected to relocate to West Virginia as part of the program. Additional benefits include professional development and entrepreneurial assistance, planned social activities, and all of the outdoor recreation the Mountain State has to offer. To date, Ascend has accepted 75 out of nearly 25,000 applicants for placement within their four program locations, and boasts a 98% retention rate. Applications have been received from all 50 states, as well as 104 countries.
Co-founders Brad and Alys Smith, who have served as president and first lady of Marshall University since January, set the groundwork for what was to become the Ascend program by donating $25 million to West Virginia University for the creation of the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative.
“(Ascend) quite frankly is the nation’s premier talent-attraction, recruitment and retention program,” Brad Smith said. “That is not by accident. It’s taken a lot of amazing work, and we’re excited by it.”
Smith further explained that the program is, “Designed to attract those who are fully employed – but have permission to live anywhere they want – to choose West Virginia as their forever-home, to live, work and play.”
The Morgantown program-area brought 53 Ascenders to the state, with the Greenbrier Valley group adding 22 more. The Eastern Panhandle will see at least 24 new residents arriving beginning after the new year.
“Our vision was to have 1,000 remote workers choose West Virginia in the first five years, not counting their families who come along with them,” Smith noted, before adding that, all told, 143 new residents have relocated thus far as a result of the program. The greater Elkins group is expected to consist of 25 Ascenders and their families.
“If this is ‘Almost Heaven,’ God placed some of his kindest angels in the greater Elkins community,” Smith concluded.
Chelsea Ruby, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism, explained that a “love for the outdoors” is a common thread amongst many Ascend program applicants, saying, “Most of the folks coming here are doing it because they’re looking for a different lifestyle.”
“They are looking for a place where they can get outside,” Ruby said. “They can hike. They can camp. They can get on the river, or they can bike. And they found that those things are here in West Virginia.”
Ascend West Virginia is currently accepting applications in all four program-areas. Prospective Ascenders should visit ascendwv.com for more information regarding program eligibility and benefits, as well as to apply.
“I love that West Virginia is getting international attention,” Smith added. “We deserve it, we’ve earned it – we’ve waited our turn. We’re no longer going to let someone else tell our story – we’re going to tell the story through the eyes of those who have come and experienced it first hand.”