Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce’s Civic Leaders Fellowship Program Seeks to Stem Population Loss

The Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce it believes it has a program that could help stem the tide of talented youth moving to other states and reverse the trend of population decline in West Virginia.

The chamber works in coordination with the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley to offer the Civic Leaders Fellowship Program, said chamber president Erikka Storch, also a Republican state delegate.

The program places college students in a job with a local business through which they learn about careers and are mentored over a six-week period.

“If we can show college youth there are opportunities locally, maybe they will return to these jobs,” Storch said. “Hopefully, this will show the kids there are local employment opportunities, and that these jobs will be rewarding. They will be inspired to pursue careers after graduation.”

West Virginia’s population estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau recently declined, for the fifth-straight year. But Storch believes if the state can retain its youth, it also will have the amenities to attract youth from other states.

“West Virginia has an unfair stereotype,” she said. “We do have some interesting companies that are headquartered in Wheeling, and they do work all over the world. If young people see what we have to offer, they can bring education back and stay in the state.

“We have a good quality of life here, and the cost of living is good. We have four seasons, and there is a lot to do. And even in the event of a natural disaster, we’re not boarding up our windows.”

The low cost of living in Wheeling gives young people an opportunity to maximize their dollars, according to Storch.

“You can reasonably afford to do something here,” she said. “You can educate your children, and it is not necessarily a burden. We have options if you wish to send your child to public, private or parochial school.

“And there is a lot to do here,” Storch continued. “You can spend the afternoon at Oglebay Park and there is no cost. You can be exposed to the symphony, or take in a Nailers game or a number of cultural events. Towngate Theatre is here. … There are a lot of options.”

Wheeling also is close to a number of larger cities that offer possibilities for day trips out of the area.

“Pittsburgh is so close, and our cost of living makes living in Wheeling a good option,” Storch said.

College students interested in obtaining more information about the Civic Leaders Fellowship Program should call the chamber office at 304-233-2575.