MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A new remote work program in West Virginia is receiving a lot of buzz country-wide. It’s no surprise with incentives, like $12,000 in cash, that entrepreneurs and remote workers are applying by the thousands.

West Virginia natives Brad and Alys Smith are the founders behind “Ascend“, and they made it possible with a gift of $25 million to launch the program. Brad Smith told 12 News that the time was right for the launch, given the shift in workforce patterns nationwide.

“We’ve seen a larger population of the workforce, who were all forced to shelter in place for the last 12 months, will emerge and have permission to live anywhere they want,” he said.  

“Our role is to keep them here. This is as much about a retention program as it is about anything else,” said Danny Twilley. Twilley works as assistant dean of the Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative at WVU.

To get people here, the program offers $12,000 cash and a year of free outdoor recreation, including rentals, and even social programs.

“It could be as simple as ‘Let’s go on a bike path ride after work today, bring your families,'” Said Twilley.

While Ascend targets remote workers, many of the incentives are geared toward entrepreneurs, including development and support through West Virginia University.

“75% of kids graduating said they want to start their own business instead of work for someone else,” said Smith.

The idea is that the program will help those already living in West Virginia.

“If we bring the talent here, the businesses will be created here, or they’ll come here because we have that talent group,” said Twilley.

Ascend will also provide co-working spaces. Smith adds that placing entrepreneurial minds together will hopefully result in brand new companies, meaning more jobs in West Virginia.

“It creates this fly-wheel effect,” said Twilley.

The program opens in Morgantown, but will soon expand to Lewisburg and Sheperdstown, WV.

Smith said growing up in West Virginia instilled three values in him that he wants others to experience:

“Integrity, humility and teamwork,” he said. “If you want to learn those values, watch the Hallmark Channel or move to West Virginia.”

The first participants are expected sometime in August.