21st Century Mountaineers: The Struggle to Make a Better West Virginia

Living in West Virginia, for some young adults, is a struggle. If so, it’s a struggle I’m happy to endure.
A few months back a couple of different entities sent out a request for stories from West Virginia millennials on why they choose to live in the Mountain State or why they might consider leaving. They were encouraged to use the hashtag #TheStruggleToStay when submitting their anecdotes.
#TheStruggleToStay. When I first saw this hashtag come scrolling down my Twitter timeline it ate at me. It radiated negativity, which I’m sure was the goal. It was designed to get a reaction, and get a reaction it did. 
I get it. If you’re of that age, the prospects of staying in West Virginia for any length of time after college probably don’t look good. If you look at the top five in-demand jobs, it’s easy to see that West Virginia isn’t the place to be (at least not yet).
For young professionals, it’s easy to look at the job market, the political landscape, the health, and even the ingrained culture of our state and want to go running for the nearest border. These people do this without understanding that by their actions they’re actually making the situation worse, not better.
According to the WVU College of Business and Economics, West Virginia is expected to lose more than 19,000 people by 2030. That’s more than 1 percent of the state’s population gone. On the other hand, West Virginia’s population north of 65 years old will make up nearly a quarter of the state’s residents in the same time frame.
With that data in mind, who do you think will shape West Virginia – economically, socially, culturally – for years to come? Not its young professionals, but the same people who have always controlled this state and largely kept it in the dark ages. That only changes if young men and women do something bold: stay.
You see, our ancestors didn’t struggle to stay. They struggled to get here in the first place. It was a struggle to create homesteads here. It was a struggle to till the ground on these hills. It was a struggle to wrest this state from Confederate Virginia, so much so that President Abraham Lincoln had to pace in his pajamas to mull it over. It was a struggle to mine the coal, forge the steel, and mold the glass.
You see, West Virginia was borne of struggle. We need not see West Virginia as a burden, but an opportunity, much the way our ancestors did. If you’re a young professional in this state, you’re every bit the pioneer your great great great grandparents were. You’re 21st century Mountaineers.
We need to be more involved. We need to be taking the entrepreneurial risks and planting the seeds of West Virginia’s new economy. We need to be more involved politically, running for local and state office, getting appointed to local boards and agencies. We need to focus on giving back, joining philanthropic and community service organizations, volunteering our time and our skills.
None of this will be easy and none of this will change the state overnight. It will be a long game and, well, a struggle. It starts with us. It starts with us staying. 
To make big changes we’re going to have many struggles. I just hope the struggle to stay is no longer one of those struggles.

To read more from Steven Allen Adams click here: Steven Allen Adams Here and Now

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Feature Photo by Nicole Wyatt