Advantage Valley calls for young professionals to work, live and play in West Virginia.
West Virginia boasts an impressive collection of colleges and universities, bringing many young people to the state for education and college life. And until recently, once those graduates left school, they often left the state, taking their newly acquired skills and knowledge with them.
However, regions like the nine-county Advantage Valley, which includes Charleston and Huntington, have launched initiatives to guide students, graduates and young people in general into jobs made plentiful by the booming manufacturing, automotive, energy and agriculture industries (to name just a few of many).
Generation West Virginia (GWV), the Charleston Roots Initiative and similar efforts help young professionals secure jobs, make lasting connections, utilize local resources and discover crucial parts of the Advantage Valley community that make it a desirable place to live. Generation West Virginia is a statewide organization with the mission of attracting and retaining young people in West Virginia, says Sam Muller, a former participant of what’s now known as the GWV Fellowship program.
“One of the greatest things that this program provided was that, immediately after college, there was a program I could get involved with and get to know people.”
Nima Shahab Shahmir, GWV program participant
This particular program (GWV has several specialized programs available) pairs host employers with prospective employees who learn the details of the job and also devote a day each week to volunteering in the community.
“GWV is really focused on building community and helping young people be engaged with what’s going on where they are,” says Muller. “There is a lot of professional development support, which was really pivotal that first year out of college.”
Nima Shahab Shahmir is another former participant of GWV who also recently participated in GWV’s NewForce program for learning to code.
“One of the greatest things that this program provided was that, immediately after college, there was a program I could get involved with and get to know people. It helped me move to Charleston and have connections,” he says. “Moving to a new place and already knowing some people who can help you, be able to make friends and have a job — it was incredible.”
The ultimate goal of all of GWV’s programs is to make those transitions easy and beneficial to everyone involved.
Another program aiming to bring more young professionals to the Putnam County area is known as CREW — Community, Relationships, Empowerment and Workforce.
Ashley Alford Glance, president of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, says CREW was recently relaunched and focuses on the retention and recruitment of young professionals in the area.
“We believe that as far as West Virginia is concerned, a majority of people will go to college and then leave,” says Alford Glance. “So, CREW gives young professionals a network of people to connect with, but further down the line also helps with workforce development.”
Life After Five
Alford Glance says that over the years, the Chamber noticed that young people are more likely to stay in an area where they feel connected, both professionally and personally. CREW creates opportunities for them to do that, she says.
The program helps participants grow professional and personal networks by hosting events where they can meet and mingle with each other and participate in team-building exercises.
“It’s not as awkward as showing up to a place where you know nobody,” Alford Glance says. “We try to make it easier.” CREW emphasizes not just professional development and connections but also the entertainment opportunities and recreational resources available in the area — anything to draw younger crowds to the state.
And another similar group, the Charleston Roots Initiative, has the same goals as both CREW and Generation West Virginia, going even so far as to offer a $5,000 relocation credit to young professionals willing to move there.
West Virginia is focused on growth. Such an intense push to get young professionals living and working in the region is destined to fill jobs, diversify the population and enrich the community. And the Advantage Valley area is shaping to be West Virginia’s frontrunner for all those benefits.
As Alford Glance says, “You have all the amenities of two large cities with a small-town, locally-owned feel.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Advantage Valley region, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, West Virginia.