Bringing Them Back To W.Va.

So many West Virginians have given up on our state that we are one of the few actually losing population.

Numbers from the 2020 census are expected to be so bad that we lose one member of the U.S. House of Representatives. That would take us down to two, making us even weaker politically in Washington.

Of course, that’s not the worst of it. Every man and woman who leaves our state takes a piece of the economy with him or her. Every couple having children elsewhere reduces resources for our public schools.

It’s a vicious cycle. So how do we reverse it?

Attracting more people to the state is imperative. That can be tough when they’ve never lived here. Why on earth would anyone want to move to — shudder — West Virginia? Our best bet is people who know our state and left us reluctantly.

It’s difficult to say precisely how many there are. Census figures provide a clue. In 1950, West Virginia’s population was slightly in excess of 2 million. It has declined to 1,805,832. That’s a drop of 200,000 people.

As the economy, particularly in the southern coalfields, continues to lag, more and more people are giving up. Some can’t even afford to do that, as I’ve written previously.

Primarily, it’s young men and women with few or no financial ties, such as mortgages, who are abandoning the Mountain State ship. They’re leaving because they think the opportunities must be better just about anywhere else.

How do we get them to come home?

Maybe we ought to just ask them what it would take to get them back.

First, we have to find out who they are and how to reach them. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and former classmates ought to be able to tell us.

Then we ask them to tell us with some specificity why they left and what they need to hear to bring them home.

Some pulled up what few stakes they had simply because they’re young and want to see the wide world. Some assumed the grass had to be greener on the other side of the mountain.

Once the wanderlust subsides, a substantial number of those who leave would love dearly to come home. The same can be said for those who found the grass wasn’t necessarily greener.

We know this because of the mentality so many of them have.

Many of them, even those gone for years, still think of West Virginia as home. Most need to be given a good reason to leave secure jobs elsewhere and return.

Well, yes, there’s the rub. Our economy doesn’t provide many of the high-tech, high-pay jobs younger people want and often find elsewhere.

Can we do anything about that? Not unless we know precisely what it is the expatriates need to persuade them to come home. Some would return for less pay, simply because they know our state has a lot to offer.

Chelsea Ruby, are you listening? Ruby is state commissioner of tourism, and she’s doing an excellent job. She’s demonstrated she knows how to use social media to bring visitors here.

Could she spearhead a campaign to find out what we need to bring our young people back — and how much of it we can actually accomplish?

We need to remember that we already have one thing the emigrants want. It’s called West Virginia.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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