Lately, I find myself reflecting on my own journey that began five years ago and has led me to West Virginia. Though unique, the set of circumstances may resonate with many young professionals and millennials.
Born and raised as a city girl in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the twelfth most-populous city in the world, it has been a contrast moving to the peaceful mountains of West Virginia.
I initially moved to the United States on an athletic scholarship to play college basketball and found myself relocating to Huntington for graduate school at Marshall University. At the beginning of my last semester, thanks to the resources at Marshall University and the opportunities at the State Capitol, I entered into the West Virginia Legislature’s Internship Program as a Walter Rollins Scholar. From there, I’ve been grateful that opportunities have rolled out like dominoes, leading to a full-time position with the West Virginia Senate followed by my current role as a research scholar for West Virginia Forward.
What first attracted me to West Virginia was the chance to further my education. What made me stay? Good job prospects in my field. The chance to take up leadership roles early on in my career while engaging in meaningful work. And the ability to work alongside colleagues who truly care about me and my professional success.
So how do we scale stories of opportunity like mine to showcase the best of West Virginia’s warm people and good job advancement? How do we encourage those born and raised in the Mountain State to plant their roots long-term while drawing in new people of all ages, backgrounds and occupations? What draws Gen Z, millennials, baby boomers and seniors to the place they call home? What helps us all feel that sense of belonging to where we live?
In my role with WV Forward, we are partnering with business and community leaders, national and local organizations, policymakers and job recruiters to dig into these questions together. There’s undoubtedly momentum across West Virginia to attract and retain new talent, curb the outmigration of young people, fill open jobs, strengthen the state’s 53 percent workforce participation rate and boost local economies. Though there’s no single, easy solution, we have found proven strategies that can support talent and fill jobs faster in the Mountain State.
Online postings, portals and job fairs are all of great importance. What more can we do? Connect people to jobs. WV Forward research shows that these deciding factors are make or break when it comes to attracting talent: career choices (job availability, upward mobility, competitive salaries); community choices (housing affordability, airport access, cultural offerings, diverse neighborhoods, dependent care options); and lifestyle choices (transportation, bikeability, walkability, broadband access, quality of life).
At a first glance, it may appear that these choices are not relevant when deciding to accept a job offer, but research shows that they are intrinsically connected with an employer’s ability to successfully recruit workers to their companies. WV Forward and collaborating partners across the state are making strides to leverage these key factors, connect people to jobs, and keep talent while enticing recruits to relocate from near and far.
West Virginia has great things to offer to people who are looking for a place to live, work and call home, from the low cost of living and friendly communities to breathtaking mountain views and world-class tourist adventures in their backyard. While the state has challenges to overcome, there are great opportunities for professionals to bring about positive change, become “movers and shakers” in their own right, raise families and support their communities.
Although I still may be a city girl at heart, I feel fortunate that I have been having the opportunity to work in in this beautiful state, alongside state leaders and employees from the state’s two flagship universities to move WV forward. There are many great things happening in West Virginia and I recommend to people who are looking for a new place to live and work to come visit and experience the state for themselves and decide if this the place where they feel they can make a true difference.