Family was the primary reason young people reported staying in West Virginia at 59 percent, followed by Job at 15.2 percent and Lifestyle at 12.8 percent.
Less than half of respondents to a survey of young professionals in West Virginia say they plan to stay in the state for more than 12 years.
In the first ever survey of its kind, Generation West Virginia, a statewide organization dedicated to attracting and retaining young talent in the Mountain State, conducted research of its members via social media in 2015.
24.2 percent of respondents reported they plan to leave West Virginia within 1 to 3 years, and 17.8 percent plan to stay for 4 to 7 years.
Asked to select from one of four pre-selected answers, Family was the primary reason young people reported staying in West Virginia at 59 percent, followed by Job at 15.2 percent and Lifestyle at 12.8 percent. Friends was the other pre-selected answer.
When asked why people would leave West Virginia, Job was the top response at 47.2 percent, followed by Lifestyle at 29.4 percent, and Family at 8.3 percent.
Respondents were asked whether or not they would recommend West Virginia to friends as a great place to live and work. Young people were split on this concept with 50.3 percent stating they would recommend the state and 49.7 percent reporting they would not.
Generation West Virginia is comprised of 11 local chapters with more than 500 members. The organization is currently working to identify and communicate the needs of young people in the state, and serves as an active voice for young West Virginians to impact policy on the local, state and federal level and provides education trainings to empower young leaders.
To further grasp what drives how young people feel about their communities, Generation West Virginia asked respondents three open-ended questions. Analysis was conducted by identifying main concepts, more specific categories were then pulled from the concepts, which were then quantified and tabulated.
Q: What about your community makes it a great place to live and work?
Young people ranked Lifestyle first, followed by the Cost of Living, the people, the Natural Environment, and the Potential for Change.
Within the most identified concept, Lifestyle, 18.8 percent of young people reported that accessible high quality outdoor recreation was very important, followed by restaurants at 8.6 percent, events at 8 percent and arts at 4.8 percent.
Respondents ranked the Cost of Living second in importance of making their community a great place to live and work. Within this category, the majority focused generally on affordability at 19.1 percent, while 6.1 percent reported that affordable housing was a benefit.
Next, young professionals identified the People in Their Communities as a positive force in their experience, many spoke of the good-naturedness and friendliness of fellow Mountaineers. Other descriptions included: close-knit, proud, hard-working.
“The strand running through most of these concepts and categories is that many of the good things about their communities are attributes associated with traditional features of West Virginia: the natural beauty of the environment and the abundance of sport and adventure it provides, craft culture and artisanship, friendly and close-knit people who are hardworking and proud, helpful communities, and potential for being involved in making one’s community better,” wrote Generation West Virginia’s Executive Director, Natalie Roper, in a report after the survey. “These elements that are already in place, and which give West Virginia a unique character, can be built upon to further attract and retain young professionals.”
Q: What about your community makes it a challenging place for young professionals to live and work?
According to young people, Jobs, Lifestyle, Housing, People and Infrastructure make it difficult or undesirable to live and work in West Virginia.
Unsurprisingly, young professionals identified Jobs as the primary challenging concept. The categories related to jobs included: the lack of jobs, followed closely by low wages, lack of professional, middle career and technical jobs. Multiple respondents concludes the lack of breadth and depth of jobs as a key reason young people are leaving West Virginia.
Secondly, young Mountaineers reported feeling challenged by Lifestyle. The bulk of responses centered on the lack of cosmopolitan or high culture. Young people would prefer more dining options, social spaces for young people to meet, more cultural diversity, healthier lifestyle options, and more arts.
The Housing Market was identified as the third most challenging concept for young people living in West Virginia. Within this concept, complaints included: an undersupply in the market, a lack of quality or middle market rental housing, a lack of downtown housing market, and a large quantity of older less-desirable housing stock.
Q: What do you think would be most important to addressing the challenges you wrote above?
Young people reported that West Virginia needs to work to decrease reliance on fossil fuel industries, diversify the economy and foster local small business.
Young professionals identified The Economy as their first priority in addressing the challenges discussed above, followed by Jobs, Lifestyle, Politics and Infrastructure.
In terms of The Economy, young people reported that West Virginia needs to work to decrease reliance on fossil fuel industries, diversify the economy, foster local small business, nurture technology and innovate industries, and build upon the existing tourism industry.
“The overall thrust in respondents’ approach to the economy is to transition away from resource extraction to a mixed economy that has a mixture of local business and larger enterprises that engage in cutting edge technology, manufacturing, or service industries,” Roper wrote in her conclusion.
The second main concept identified was Jobs, strongly linked to the primary concept of the economy. Young professionals identified the following as requiring improvement: higher wages, more professional jobs, more jobs in general, more creative/innovative jobs, and more clean energy jobs. Young people also noted the need for more middle career jobs, manufacturing jobs, tech jobs, more advancement opportunities, and more diverse jobs.
Next, young people would address Lifestyle. Participants wanted to see more events and entertainment, more diverse food options, more activities, more cultural events such as music and other festivals, more shopping options, more healthy food options, more social events and more downtown activities and shopping.