Lewisburg, WV — (WVNS)– The Hill and Holler taproom in Lewisburg is the kind of local joint where friends meet for a beer and a specialty pizza pie.

On Tuesday, July 26, 2022, it played host to West Virginia University President Dr. Gordon Gee, who met with Greenbrier County movers and shakers to welcome some of the county’s newest residents. The new group consists of carefully selected remote workers who submitted to a rigorous application process in order to move to Lewisburg area.

“We’re celebrating 35 new folks who have moved here and are now contributing to our great state,” Gee explained.

The workers were recruited to move to the state through the Ascend West Virginia program. Ascend WV is promoted by Gov. Jim Justice and is part of WVU’s Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Recreation Program. Around 4,000 residents from other states applied to move to Greenbrier County, said Gee, but only 35 were selected.

“It’s more difficult to get into our Ascend program at the Greenbrier Valley than it is to get into Harvard,” said Gee.

Based on comments from Gee and Ryan King, the Ascend WV coordinator for Greenbrier County, the new residents are educated, with 30 percent holding a master’s degree. Seven percent obtained a doctorate.

The state currently has the lowest number of college graduates than any other state, a struggling economy dependent on coal, along with one of the nation’s lowest workforce participation rates.

State leaders are attempting to attract businesses to the state and working to build an educated workforce.

“Ascend WV couldn’t be more proud to introduce the community to these local new leaders, to the new business owners, and to the state’s newest intellectual capacity,” said King.

In a state where environmental justice groups routinely oppose the interests of coal and natural gas companies, a number of Ascend residents listed the state’s environment as a reason for choosing to apply to Ascend.

Nicole Falk said moved to Lewisburg from San Francisco, Ca., in April because of a bike trip she had once taken in the state.

“It blew my mind,” said Falk. “I had never been in forest like that, before. “It’s very different on the West Coast,” she noted. “It was like an amazing experience and so when the West Virginia opportunity opened up, I applied.”

Falk, who works remotely for a company that provides health care for women, said it will be important for state lawmakers to keep an open line of communication regarding women’s reproductive health care needs.

“I think it’s just an important conversation to have, and it is something we talk about, as a group here,” said Falk. “What can we do to just stimulate the conversation. I think it really starts with having open communications with both angles…what it means to the people in the different communities here and having access to top-notch health care.”

Ascend representatives said the carefully selected new residents will give back to the state and promote leaders’ vision of improving the state.

“That’s all we request,” Gee told the Ascend recruits gathered at Hill and Holler. “Is, come, be part of this institution, be part of this state, and just make us better.”