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We need to continue building in order to grow

The outdoors certainly is a vital resource for West Virginia.

We Mountaineers take great pride in our state parks and the natural beauty of our state, and, in recent years especially, strides have been taken in the hopes of sharing it with more people.

The tourism industry is growing in an effort to draw increased visitors to our borders, and action by Congress last year officially made the New River Gorge area a national park (it previously was a national river).

Getting people to visit is great. Getting them to stay would be better, especially for a state which has consistently been losing population.

Gov. Jim Justice is hoping to use some of the same ideas to increase our tourism in an effort to attract new residents, recently announcing a new incentive program to get people to relocate here.

The project would target the “remote workers” of the nation, those who are able to work from their home no matter where their employer is located.

The gist of the proposal, which was announced Monday, remote workers who would decide to move to West Virginia would receive $12,000, as well as passes for a year for a variety of outdoor activities, including whitewater rafting, golf, rock climbing, skiing, ziplining and more. The full package is valued at $20,000.

Right now, there would be three “hub” communities targeted for people to live, beginning with 50 openings in Morgantown, and then Shepherdstown in the Eastern Panhandle and the governor’s hometown of Lewisburg.

Those areas are close to a variety of state parks and other outdoor locales and historical sites, so it’s understandable state officials would want to try things out there.

There are two major obstacles I can see, though, and I’m hoping the state is able to focus more on those before trying to expand on its new remote-worker inticement.

The first, and probably most obvious, is that there are many portions of West Virginia known for having unreliable internet availability. Even here in the Northern Panhandle, where we’re closer to Pittsburgh and Columbus than to our own state capital, there are areas where residents have difficulty connecting to the internet, or are limited in their online providers.

The state is making some inroads there, but it will still take a few years to be able to build up the infrastructure needed to provide the kind of service needed throughout West Virginia.

The other potential issue is what happens if someone moves here as a remote-worker, but decides to seek employment elsewhere? Maybe they don’t want to spend their workday at home anymore or are looking for a change in career? Will they be able to find what they are seeking here?

I want West Virginia to be successful and to grow. This is something new to try, and maybe it will work, but I have to wonder whether we’ve truly set ourselves up for it to be as great as officials want it to be.

Do our current young residents see West Virginia as somewhere they want to stay? Are we a place that will attract new young people? It’s going to take more than an incentive package focusing on our state’s natural beauty and outdoor activities.

We don’t need the political sniping that has been going on. We need to work together for the benefit of our state’s future, or we will continue to fall behind no matter how many programs are launched or how many good intentions we may have.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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