CHARLESTON, W.Va.– An over $5 million grant is helping the Department of Tourism expand workforce development in West Virginia, grow tourism jobs, and bolster the 53,000 jobs in the state the tourism industry already directly supports.

West Virginia Department of Tourism Director of Destination Development, Ennis Barbery Smith said during a recent tourism update that they plan to keep utilizing the $5.1 million grant awarded to them from the U.S. Economic Development Administration last year to continue expanding various workforce initiatives throughout the state.

Barbery Smith said so far the five-year grant has helped them bring K-12 tourism and hospitality-related curriculum to schools across all 55 counties after the Tourism department divided it between themselves, West Virginia Department of Education, state community and technical colleges, and the Department of Economic Development.

In addition, she said they have also expanded the high school tourism program from 10 to 20 new courses across the state,

Barbery Smith said there’s now a total of 9,000 students in the state currently enrolled in courses with tourism curriculum.

“That’s a huge look at how we’re trying to shape our future and communicate to the next generation that this is an industry that’s growing and that’s going to be a great industry to join as a career path,” she said.

Last year the tourism department launched Tourism Works, a new workforce development initiative to prepare for the projected growth of more than 21,000 annual job openings in the state’s tourism industry through 2025.

Barbery Smith said one area of the grant extended to community and technical colleges is helping to fund an online training program for students and those already in the tourism industry known as Tourism Works Certification Program. The program will offer participants a series of online training modules focused on skill-building in areas of hospitality, customer service, and how to be a local ambassador of tourism.

Another initiative she said the grant is helping to fund is known as the Train Your Team program which provides free and low-cost training opportunities for those already in or who are going into the tourism industry, and provides them up to $2,000 per year in tuition and training costs.

Chelsea Ruby, Secretary of WV Dept. of Tourism

Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby said it’s crucial they ensure West Virginia’s workforce is prepared for the influx of new jobs, and workforce development needs to be made a top priority moving forward.

“As we look to the future of tourism in West Virginia, I think it’s vital we continue looking at how we can grow the workforce at the same pace the industry is growing,” said Ruby. “We’ve seen incredible growth these past couple of years, but the growth on the workforce side isn’t matching up with that.”

Barbery Smith said another major area of progress the team with Destination Development has been working on is the Tourism Development Act Tax Credit, which she said is one of the main incentives the state has to offer to attract more tourism investments.

In 2023, the committee approved four applications for the tourism tax credit, including River Riders Family Adventure Resort in Harpers Ferry, Farms Work Wonders in Wardensville, Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, and Grand Patrician Resort in Milton.

She said this totals $18.7 million in investment, and it will be giving the businesses an incentive on their sales and use tax.

“It’s up to 35-percent of the investment that’s put into the project, that then businesses are able to draw back down through sales and use tax over a number of years after they’ve opened their new project,” she said.

She said two other tourism tax credits are also currently being reviewed, and their approval will bring another $23.4 million in investment coming into West Virginia’s tourism economy.

Barbery Smith said they are looking at even more investment into the industry for this year ahead.

“We’ve got over $60 million in tourism investment in the works, other projects that we’ve talked to that are considering applications, they’re in the process of looking at the credit and determining if it’s a good fit for them,” said Barbery Smith.