Downtown Morgantown, West Virginia.
West Virginia Department of Tourism
West Virginia announced the first round of winners for its relocation incentive program this week, and more of them are from California than any other state. Of the 53 applicants selected to move to the Morgantown area, 11% are from the Golden State.
This will surely feed the narrative that “Californians are fleeing their home state” and looking to lower tax areas. After all, the Tax Foundation ranks California as one of the ten states with the highest state and local tax burden, while West Virginia ranks in the middle. And let’s not forget that the 2020 US Census data shows Texas is attracting more Californians.
But the reality is more nuanced. First of all, a recent survey by the University of California found that contrary to popular belief, California residents are not moving out of the state in unusual numbers. Second, the pandemic has accelerated the availability of teleworking and more people than ever are no longer tied to a region by their jobs.
West Virginia, like many other places, takes advantage of this by offering one of the most enticing relocation incentives in the country. In fact, a whopping 7,500 people have applied for the Ascend West Virginia program. The 53 selected newcomers even come from far away Berlin, from 21 different federal states and the District of Columbia. Receive $ 12,000 each in cash, over $ 2,500 worth of one year of free outdoor recreation, free coworking space, access to more than $ 1,200 in free outdoor equipment rentals, and other perks.
The state also announced that all 7,500 applicants could receive $ 2,5000 mortgage assistance through Rocket Mortgage if they still choose to move.
“As soon as I heard how many applications were coming in, I knew the team had to think bigger. If so many people wanted to live and work in West Virginia, we had to do everything we could to make it happen, ”Governor Jim Justice said in a press release.
This may all sound pretty tricky, but moving incentives are fast becoming an important part of government and local economic development strategy. From Tulsa, Oklahoma to Rochester, NY to the state of Vermont, many cities and states are now offering cash to their new residents. A look at the numbers behind the first Ascend class in West Virginia shows why: The median annual income of those selected is about $ 105,000 – nearly four times the average per capita income for the state and more than double the median Household income.
In addition, many applicants bring their families with them, so in the end more than 110 people will move to Morgantown thanks to the program. Since the income numbers above refer to applicants only and not their entire household, the total annual purchasing power is likely much higher than the $ 5.6 million represented by individual winners.
All of this results in more tax revenue for West Virginia and its localities, which are struggling to sustain their residents and recover from the Great Recession.
And what about that Californian corner? One of West Virginia’s biggest selling points is its great outdoors, so it makes sense that nature-loving Californians would be drawn to this moving package and its outdoor adventure perks. And that also applies to other places.
“I see a great opportunity for West Virginia to become an oasis in the mountains for sharing ideas, incubation and serenity,” said Matthew Worden, a native West Virginian relocating from Tallahassee, Florida. “With people moving away from the coast and major cities, West Virginia is an obvious destination.”
The Ascend program is funded by a $ 25 million donation from former Intuit INTU INTU CEO Brad D. Smith and his wife, Alys, in partnership with West Virginia University and the state government. Applications for the next location in Lewisburg are now open.