West Virginia, a rural state with an older and declining population, has since 2010 had 19,000 more deaths than births and 17,000 more residents leaving than moving here. We need to attempt to boost our state’s population. Other rural states are doing so. Yet, even the fear of losing a congressional representative in 2020 does not seem to have motivated West Virginia to work to recruit new residents.
Planning and creativity are needed to attract out-of-staters, but we don’t have to invent the wheel. A college classmate from the University of Vermont, who now lives in Maine, a state with similar issues, sent me an intriguing column from the Bangor (Maine) Daily News.
Headlined, “Rural states seek new residents,” it noted that in recent years, Vermont, a state whose largest city, Burlington, has 42,000 residents, has used financial incentives to attract newcomers. Vermont, which bragged that it had more cows than people when I was a college student, now has about 626,000 residents; no data on cattle.
In seeking new younger, employable residents, Vermont has offered up to $10,000 over a two-year period to those willing relocate there. In its initial year, 33 new remote workers and families moved in.
Maine has a program called “Live and Work in Maine,” which rather than giving monetary incentives works to connect potential out-of-state residents to existing jobs throughout the state. South Dakota started a program 13 years ago to offer assistance to those who are interested and willing to move to that state. Officials there claim they have helped almost 5,000 people and families so far. Nebraska and Wyoming, both states with large distances between metro areas, also have worked to bring in both new blood and former residents to their states.
To my knowledge, West Virginia has not had a formal program or clear attempt to bring new residents to our state. There have been efforts to bring additional businesses and industry here and many of these, such as Toyota, have brought new employment opportunities and employees. But that’s not enough; our state’s population is still declining.
There’s no guarantee that a program to recruit self-employed and employable people to West Virginia would add a significant number of people to the state’s population. But if we don’t put forth a meaningful effort, then our population decrease will only intensify.
One problem West Virginia must overcome is the inaccurate and unflattering perception of life and most residents of this state. Well-circulated media describes West Virginians as fat, lazy, uneducated and drug addicted and more. We do have problems and negatives, but that is true for every state in this nation.
West Virginia does advertise for vacationers seeking hiking, fishing, hunting and scenery. But it’s time to tell the outside world that we have occupational, cultural, educational, intellectual, creative, artistic and more desirable opportunities in a geographically pleasing and affordable location. We need more emphasis on our positive features.
A resident recruitment program should be run by the state government. However, I’m not optimistic that our state would be receptive to or ready to organize such a program soon, considering the slow trajectory of the “Roads to Prosperity” program that now needs “consultants.”
Perhaps, Cabell County-Huntington would be a good vehicle to start this recruitment. We may not have money to give away, but we certainly have information, contacts and competent people who could initiate such a program.
The bottom line is, like other rural states, West Virginia really needs more residents and must be active and creative to attract them.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is email@example.com.