FAIRMONT — The coronavirus pandemic forced thousands of employers to shift their employees to working from home, and as the pandemic continues, that trend doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon.
Jonathan Board, chair of the board of directors for the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, thought that because the modern office has somewhat become the home office, workers may be able to choose their home and then their workplace, rather than move to an area for a job.
Marion Remote is a new campaign born out of this idea, and is encouraging remote workers to move here and make Marion County their new home and home office.
“There is this new marketplace that has been created,” Board said. “I think what perhaps some of our friends and colleagues might have seen as liabilities of this area have now become assets, because you have thousands of folks fleeing the larger metropolitan areas, and they’re seeking a slower, a safer pace.”
According to Board, Marion Remore is a collaboration between the Chamber of Commerce and other municipalities and community organizations, in an effort to attract the up and coming workforce to Marion County. He said the campaign is emphasizing the strengths West Virginia already offers, while pushing the message out to people across the country.
“We’re looking at marketing campaigns in either social media or traditional media that kind of enlightens them to the brand of Marion County and what we have to offer,” Board said. “We’re going to be working with our towns and town councils and organizations, a lot of work with our Visitors Bureaus, our County Commission, to make sure we have proper housing, because that’s the key.”
In order to support this campaign, the Chamber of Commerce has created a new committee to steer all the components of it in the right direction. Rocco Fucillo will serve as chair of the Marion Remote committee. He said he hopes the initiative will help benefit the people already living in Marion County as well.
“My goal is if we can increase the population with some young, diverse people who get high paying jobs into Marion County, it would create a significant ripple effect to the economy,” Fucillo said. “It would benefit local businesses, it would increase the skills of the local job force, it would attract other companies to move in here. It would just have a dynamic effect to what is going on.”
Both Board and Fucillo said the low cost of living in West Virginia is one of the state’s assets they want to emphasize as well, in addition to its centralized location compared to many other landmarks of the East Coast.
“Fairmont, Marion County has a low cost of living,” Fucillo said. “Within Marion County, in an hour or so drive, you can get anywhere you want and all kinds of activities you want, from hiking to biking, fishing, kayaking, hunting, whatever it is you want to do.”
Brian Floyd, an associate broker at Floyd Real Estate of Fairmont, said he often pitches the same aspects Fucillo referenced when he takes a call from families who are asking about moving to Marion County. He said quality of life, especially, is a growing concern for people who are looking to move to a new area.
“If I don’t have to drive to work every day, what are the things I’m looking for,” Floyd said. “West Virginia has so many great recreation opportunities. We have such a rich history, the cost of living is good. Quality of life issues I think are critically important when you’re talking about some of the initiatives the chamber is doing to draw people in here.”
Floyd also agreed that the proximity of West Virginia to other cities and landmarks is one of its best aspects for people who are moving.
“Access in general in North Central West Virginia is exceptionally good to so many major markets,” Floyd said. “Pittsburgh is 90 miles to the north, D.C. is three-and-a half hours away. You’ve got major points in Virginia and the Carolinas that are within a half day drive.”
Fucillo said other cities are also creating initiatives to drive the home workforce to their area, since the pandemic created such a unique opportunity for certain workers. Board said he believes Marion Remote will stand out from other city’s campaigns, because the area already has desirable assets like a low cost of living.
“Unlike a lot of areas who are chasing after this marketplace who realize they need to spend hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to create infrastructure and assets to capture that market, we feel that Marion County has had these assets in place for a long time,” Board said. “Marion County frankly has this in droves.”
An increase in population would benefit people already living in Marion County as well, especially if the people who move to the area are young professionals looking to take part in community development efforts.
“Marion County benefits in numerous ways from this,” Board said. “The towns would see an increase in revenue, and bringing in talented folks and leaders who are well-positioned will also bring up the quality of life throughout the region.”
Fucillo said he is looking forward to getting the project off the ground, and excited to show off the perks of Marion County to the rest of the world.
“Sometimes people living inside a bubble don’t see the benefits we have,” Fucillo said. “We just have to get the word out.”
To Board, this shift in the workforce has provided an opportunity for Marion County to take advantage of, and this time the people are ready to do just that.
“I think for a long time, we have maybe missed out on opportunities, and this time we’re not going to miss out,” Board said. “We are so perfectly positioned to capture this market, and we have the right people to do it.”