West Virginia is emphasizing its natural assets in an effort to convince remote workers to move to The Mountain State.
Ascend WV is West Virginia’s new program aimed at recruiting “outdoor-enthusiast professionals” to live and work in the rural state, according to a recent press release announcing the initiative’s launch.
“We are rolling out the red carpet and inviting remote workers from across the country to make Almost Heaven, West Virginia their home,” said West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, in a statement. Justice described Ascend WV as a way to offer participants “the freedom to live and work in paradise.”
Made possible by a $25 million gift to West Virginia University from Intuit executive chairman Brad D. Smith and his wife, Alys, the program does provide a host of incentives designed to entice remote workers, particularly those with a love of the outdoors.
For example, Ascend WV offers remote workers $12,000 with no strings attached, to be used to assist with moving and living expenses and/or to “explore new passions and hobbies” in West Virginia, according to the aforementioned press release.
Those taking advantage of the program can also enjoy free outdoor recreation — whitewater rafting, hiking, ziplining, rock climbing and skiing — as well as free coworking spaces and the opportunity to earn remote work certifications through WVU.
Ascend WV is not the first program of its kind. Other U.S. cities and states have rolled out similar initiatives in recent years. Since 2018, for instance, Tulsa Remote has provided $10,000 grants and community-building opportunities to attract eligible remote workers and entrepreneurs from outside the state of Oklahoma.
Tulsa Remote welcomed more than 375 members to the city in 2020, when the arrival of the coronavirus made going to the office all but out of the question for the better part of the year.
A significant number of those who went home to work in 2020 probably aren’t coming back to headquarters any time soon, either. At least not on a full-time basis.
For example, one survey’s findings suggest that the percentage of employees working from home will double in 2021. Upwork estimates that 36.2 million American employees will be remote by the year 2025; that number represents an 87% increase in the number of employees working remotely before the pandemic.
Will more cities and states respond to this new reality with offerings similar to those in Tulsa and West Virginia? And would such programs help smaller, less metropolitan locales gain ground on “the big cities” in the battle for remote talent?
Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, foresees more programs like these rolling out as the work-from-anywhere (WFA) movement continues to pick up steam.
“Attracting remote workers mitigates the chicken-and-egg problem that smaller towns have faced in not being able to attract talent because of the lack of companies [in their area] and not being able to attract companies because of the lack of talent [in their region].
“The spread of WFA has the potential to reverse brain drain and help smaller towns attract talent,” said Choudhury, who studies the productivity effects of workers’ geographic mobility, causes of geographic immobility and the productivity effects of remote work practices.
The lower cost of living and the chance to work and contribute to the community makes smaller towns appealing to many workers, he added. And, remote work “does level the playing field, as long as smaller towns invest in coworking spaces with internet connectivity and invest in housing, parks, meeting spaces and community facilities that make them attractive to remote workers.”
Dave Ulrich, a professor of business at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, sees a few principles as the foundation of remote worker programs and the perks and rewards they’re proffering.
“First, work boundaries are less about a place and more about contribution,” said Ulrich, who is also co-founder of the RBL Group. “It used to be that we ‘go to work, are at work and return home from work.’ Now, with technology connections, many aspects of work can be done anywhere, anytime. So, workers don’t need to live in the state where they work.”
This makes attracting knowledge workers increasingly difficult, which creates a conundrum for employers, said Ulrich.
States must personalize their perks or offer rewards that appeal to each individual contributor, in order to attract “volunteers” — not those who work for free, but those who are able to work for organizations based in disparate locations, he said.
“Some potential employees like the physical (rock climbing), others the social (working with friends) and others value flexibility (working at home). Organizations that personalize their offerings will be more likely to attract ‘volunteer’ talent.”
Some perks have short-term appeal, however. More long-term employee attraction and productivity coming when employees’ experience is based on three more intangible benefits — meaning and purpose, a sense of belonging and opportunities for learning and growth, said Ulrich.
“These three principles — work boundaries, personalization and experience — will likely become increasingly important to win the talent wars.”
About the Author
Mark McGraw is the managing editor of Workspan.