West Virginia’s population dropped to 1.8 million according to a recent US Census estimate. That’s down nearly 50,000 since 2010 because of two main factors. First, more people are moving out than in. And second, there’s a higher death rate compared to birth rate among those left. So, conventional wisdom is we should diversify our economy and recruit new businesses. But that’s more difficult than it seems. Here are some reasons why.
Dr. John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at West Virginia University, speaking to the Greenbrier Valley Development Council last week, noted that there is not one West Virginia economy. We are a state of regions, each with unique economic drivers. He identifies the eastern panhandle; north central West Virginia; the Wheeling area; the Greenbrier Valley and New River Gorge; Kanawha Valley; and southern coal fields as regions.
For instance, the Greenbrier Valley is hardwood reliant. As one attendee told me, “If you’re not in hardwoods up here, you’re not really in business.” And our southwestern coal fields are obviously coal reliant. Same with other regions.
Therefore, something driving one region, may or may not drive another. So we can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach.
He also said, “We’ve known for years that we need to diversify our economy,” but then added, “No one really knows how … although unleashing entrepreneurs is definitely part of it.
“I’m asked if I think growing hemp would work or if growing lavender would. My answer is always ‘yes’ because they certainly could work.”
And that’s the power of entrepreneurship. The conditions may be right, but it takes an entrepreneur to bring it together.
With a Robert Noyce, Silicon Valley might have formed here. With a Hugh McColl, perhaps we’d be headquarters of Bank of America. And if Joe Ricketts had lived here, perhaps TD Ameritrade would have its world headquarters on Capitol Street.
And for those who think the answer is enticing an existing business to move here, understand that the ante has been raised.
Vermont will now pay individuals up to $10,000 over two years to move to the state if you are a remote worker for an out-of-state corporation.
It’s still a pilot project but it shows how seriously they take recruiting residents.
But that’s not all.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, will pay remote workers $10,000 to move there plus they’ll pay a membership in a co-working space (worth $1,800), up to three months of discounted rent in a furnished apartment in Tulsa’s Arts District, plus programming, events and community-building opportunities to help workers get settled.
Baltimore, Maryland will give a homebuyer a $5,000 forgivable five-year loan or a $10,000 grant if you’re willing to move into one of their abandoned homes.
St. Clair County, Michigan, has a reverse scholarship program offering up to $15,000 to STEAM-related graduates (science, technology, engineering, arts or math) that make the move there.
Marquette, Kansas, is offering new residents free lots of land for those who begin building within 120 days and finish within a year.
Hamilton, Ohio, is providing $5,000 to recent (within seven years) STEAM graduates who move and accept employment there.
North Platte, Nebraska, will match local employers’ signing bonuses of up to $5,000, thus offering new employees $10,000 total to work in factories, warehouses, medical centers and the railroad.
Grant County, Indiana, is not only offering recent graduates $5,000 to buy a home, but a 20 percent reduction on monthly rent for leases of 12 months or more.
Finally, New Haven, Connecticut, is offering up to $80,000 in benefits for first-time home buyers. Their offer includes a $10,000 interest-free loan to use for a down payment or closing costs and $30,000 in energy-savings upgrades as well as $40,000 for in-state college tuition for any of one’s children who graduate from a New Haven public school.
So, competition is increasing for residents at a time we need them. Perhaps West Virginia will have to be more creative to compete.