You will not argue that the pandemic has altered our lives. It has wreaked havoc across many fronts, in many communities and in many homes. This is well documented. But there is another side of this mess. There is the lemonade we are making with the proverbial lemons that COVID-19 has given to West Virginia.
As we mark the anniversary of the pandemic, at a time when it belonged in a sci fi movie and not literally in our living rooms, I reflect on what I have experienced in West Virginia. On this Ides of March, I feel the need to settle the debt with the pandemic. I recall thinking in March of 2020, somewhere in this tragedy is opportunity and hope. My instincts were right. The pandemic has been a disruptor and from that comes change. Some of it is positive and I want to reflect on that side.
COVID forced us to stay home. And COVID allowed us to connect in new and different ways. The access we now have to state and national leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs, funders, founders and world class stars has shifted fundamentally. It usually requires a large stage to secure the large names. COVID has enabled us to have incredible access to the likes of Brad D. Smith, a Kenova native who made his mark in Silicon Valley. Thanks to our need to meet virtually, we get to see and chat with Brad on a regular basis. Add John Chambers, another West Virginia cum Silicon Valley star to that list. Even Sir Richard Branson has “visited” West Virginia and given us inspiration…. and the Virgin Hyperloop. Because of COVID, a wide variety of West Virginians are engaged with leaders who share their thoughts, ideas, resources, and encouragement to West Virginians. They are holding our hands as we craft a future we want for ourselves and our Mountain State. This alone will be transformational. But there is more.
Suddenly a rural lifestyle is, well, desired. Many of us who live rurally have always appreciated the benefits of a more pastoral world. Much of the world did not. Suddenly, West Virginia is a coveted oasis. It is not just a lovely place for leaf peeping. People want to live here. And they are buying homes, sight (and site) unseen, in record numbers.
Suddenly, you don’t have to live where you work. Brad Smith tells us about the staggering number of high-tech jobs that are no longer tied to a location. Enter West Virginia. We have a mostly rural lifestyle. We have an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, all along the easy to difficult spectrum. Much attention and effort are being poured into this fact. West Virginia has it all and the best, when it comes to outdoor pursuits. Now we are telling the world. This combination perfectly positions West Virginia to be an attractive location for individuals and families who can and want to relocate, work remotely or both.
To top it off, three quarters of the population moving into the workforce embrace the entrepreneurial lifestyle. West Virginia will be the place where they make their dreams come true. We have the nimble, willing leadership to assist the transformation and we have the guidance and resources from our expats who want to see West Virginia craft a future she wants.
I think the pandemic has accelerated our ability to write a positive history. I think its lemons will make a powerful lemonade for the Mountain State.