Ex-residents share tales of leaving West Virginia

BECKLEY — Christine Estellon, 41, lived in Wheeling before moving to Pittsburgh to advance her career as a director of supply chain order management with Covestro.

Nicholas Cartmill, 33, called South Charleston home before getting a job with MTV and later HGTV. He now lives in New York City.

Megan Constantino, 34, said she felt fortunate that she and her husband Frank, 36, were able to land good jobs in West Virginia. The two called Beckley home for most of their lives but later moved to Tampa so Frank could advance his career as a regional business manager for a medical device company.

Estellon, Cartmill, and the Constantinos said the big driver in their decisions to leave the Mountain State dealt with opportunity and advancing their careers, which they didn’t feel was possible in West Virginia. Although many people who moved outside of the state had many different reasons for moving, opportunity usually headed the list.

West Virginia ranks low on AARP’s Livability Index which scores states and neighborhoods on a scale from 0-100. Scores are based on categories of housing affordability and access; neighborhoods’ access to life, work and play; safe and convenient options for transportation; clean air and water; prevention, access and quality of health; civic and social involvement; and opportunity, inclusion and possibilities.

The state as a whole has a score of 50. High points are housing affordability, where the state scored 60, and engagement, where the state earned a score of 66. The lowest scores were access to life, work and play, where the state had a score of 38, and the health category, where the state had a score of 31. Opportunity was middle of the road at 51. Many of the surrounding states had similar scores with Kentucky scoring lower at a 47, where health also ranked low on the list at a 35.

Finding opportunity

Estellon received her undergraduate degree in chemistry, interning at Bayer in New Martinsville where she later was hired full-time upon graduation. However, she said she started to become concerned about opportunities to advance her career.

She later received her MBA and landed at the corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh. Initially, she commuted from Wheeling but after she and her husband, Francois, got married, they settled in Canonsburg.

The Constantinos always had a desire to move somewhere warm and sunny. Both had lived in the Mountain State all their lives but Frank found he needed to move to advance his career.

The two relocated to Florida in 2015, spending sunny days on the beach with their 3-year-old son, Blake. Megan, meanwhile, works in public relations and marketing. After moving to Tampa, she noticed an increase in clients.

Some people said they either didn’t feel like their job existed in West Virginia or there was a market elsewhere for their passions.

Social, political frustrations

Cartmill moved to New York City about three years ago because he wanted to advance his career. He left West Virginia after getting a job with MTV where he worked on Teen Mom 2 and Teen Mom OG. He recently changed positions, now serving as a production manager for Island Life on HGTV with a move to Mexico Life on the horizon.

Cartmill said he wouldn’t find a similar opportunities if he stayed in West Virginia.

That was one fact, Cartmill said, for packing up and leaving. Another was that his family was on the move as well. Political frustrations played a role, too.

“A lot of it stemmed from the fact that I’m more independent than conservative and the state seems like that’s the only mindset you encounter,” he said. “It seemed like, politically, we continued to elect people who didn’t look out for its residents.

“It was frustrating to vote in an election where I felt like I never had a voice.”

For Ashley, 30, and Sean Noland, 34, finding a stable future was the biggest reason for leaving West Virginia. The two, who now call Redwood City, Calif., home, said the political climate back in the Mountain State also played a role on why they didn’t see a bright future any time soon.

“In my opinion, the Legislature, the court system, the governor’s office, and the rest have demonstrated abysmal leadership over the past five years,” Sean said. “We didn’t see it turning around and didn’t see potential from it. We wanted to get away. We saw it getting worse before it got better.”

Some also mentioned frustration with a lack of diversity, saying they felt more at home in a melting pot of a larger city. According to the U.S. Census as of July 1, 2016, West Virginia’s population was 93.6 percent white.

Estellon said her husband, Francois, moved to the U.S. from outside the country. Pittsburgh felt like a better fit for them.

“Wheeling was not a cultural fit and he didn’t want to drive the hour plus to Pittsburgh,” she said. “I chose to stay on the southern side of Pittsburgh to remain closer to my family and friends in Wheeling. As our family grew, we ended up moving slightly more north for more space and a better school district.”

Cartmill appreciates the cultural mix of a larger city.

“There’s probably 14 different languages spoken on my street alone,” he said. “A big part of leaving the state was just to meet people who were different or had completely different life experiences.”

Still missing home

Some people said they would never move back to West Virginia because they liked the amenities of where they live — including being close to concert venues, professional football teams or a plethora of activities in their cities. However, many said they consider West Virginia home even if they were unsure if it would ever be economically feasible to move back.

“I do start to miss home,” Constantino said. “There’s nothing like it. While it does have a downside and is struggling, it’s still home. It will always be home.”

Cartmill misses grabbing a biscuit from Tudor’s or exploring West Virginia’s mountains, but he’s happy where he is. He wouldn’t mind retiring in West Virginia.

“I do love the state. I love the mountains. I grew up in them,” he said. “It’s also comfortable. I know the state. Sometimes, I wish it would surprise me but it rarely does. Ultimately, I want to live somewhere quiet. West Virginia tends to be quiet.”

Estellon said she did not expect to move back, even if career opportunities didn’t come into play.

“I don’t anticipate a large influx of opportunities, so if I want to have my career, I will stay closer to larger cities,” she said. “Even if I won the lottery, I would move some place warmer. My family is small, so I don’t have a huge draw to return.”