On May 11, 2021, on an NPR “All Things Considered” segment titled “Pennies From (Almost)…
Celebrating Two Years of Ascend West Virginia
In 2021, Brad D. Smith and his wife Alys launched the Ascend West Virginia remote worker incentive program through their Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC). As a West Virginia native with a lifelong passion for giving back to his home state, Brad was inspired to create an initiative that would share the wonder of West Virginia with those living beyond its borders and entice more individuals to call it home. Two years have passed since the launch of Ascend, and in that time, the program has experienced overwhelming success and momentum for the future.
Ascend WV: A New Path for Remote Workers
As one of the nation’s leading talent recruitment and retention programs, Ascend WV works to capitalize on the increasing number of remote workers to combat population loss in West Virginia. As remote workers typically have the flexibility to live and work in the location of their choosing, Ascend WV gives these professionals the resources they need to relocate to the Mountain State.
“Ascenders” receive incentives to assist with their move, including a $12,000 stipend to help them establish a new home. Additionally, Ascenders and their families are given the opportunity to truly experience life in “Almost Heaven” with access to free outdoor recreational activities for a year. With programming created specifically to assist remote workers, Ascend WV also offers networking events, coworking spaces and other professional development resources to help participants grow their entrepreneurial interests and expertise.
Celebrating Two Years of Bringing Ascenders to West Virginia
In the two years since the launch of Ascend WV, the program has boomed with tens of thousands of applications pouring in from workers across all 50 states and over 80 countries. To date, 159 Ascenders and their families — a total of 299 people — have made the move to the mountains and storybook communities that comprise WV. Ever growing their numbers, Ascend WV is projected to bring in 1,000 remote workers and families to the Mountain State over the next five years.
While Ascend first began its operation across three locations, it has since grown to include five communities across the state. Today, Ascenders are located across communities in Greenbrier Valley, Morgantown Area, the Eastern Panhandle, Greater Elkins and — the newest addition — New River Gorge. Each community offers the iconic views of West Virginia paired with unique local restaurants, shops, galleries and recreational opportunities, creating a perfect place to find a new home.
The Future is First
Addressing the issue of recent graduates leaving the state, Ascend WV recently created and announced a new venture focused on retaining the next generation of workers. This program — officially named First Ascent — aims to keep recent graduates of Marshall University and West Virginia University (WVU) working and living in the state. A spin-off program of Ascend WV, the First Ascent initiative will offer participants similar incentives to Ascend, helping them grow their professional development as remote and hybrid workers while also giving them unlimited opportunities to explore the outdoors.
Marshall President Brad D. Smith and WVU President Gordon Gee recently discussed First Ascent and the crucial role new graduates play in bolstering the state during the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Business Summit.
Brad said, “We have the opportunity to help them [the next generation] see that the future is right here. If they can connect to meaningful job opportunities right here, and then let’s offer them those job opportunities…let’s get creative and innovative and remove the barriers so that our sons and daughters can stay here in this state…and continue to build a great State of West Virginia.”
Introducing Others to Mountain Living
With its mountains and quaint cities, West Virginia offers its residents opportunity, adventure and an unwavering sense of community. As First Ascent takes off and Ascend WV continues to expand, more and more individuals will be granted the opportunity to experience Almost Heaven and call the Mountain State “home.”