Regional Programs Already Address Economic Shortages in West Virginia | State and region

When it comes to West Virginia’s future, its success lies in its people.

From employment opportunities to labor force participation to population growth, the director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at the University of West Virginia said these are expected to tend to decline as the year continues. West Virginia.

At an economic summit Thursday at Historic Black Knight City Park, John Deskins told a room full of businessmen and community leaders that while these numbers look grim, they are not set in stone.

While he spoke about the trends he observed in the economy of the entire state of West Virginia, he also spoke specifically of the New River Gorge area, which encompasses the counties of Raleigh, Fayette, Summers and Nicholas.

For New River Gorge’s economy to improve, Deskins said investments must be made to encourage workforce participation through education and health initiatives. He added that the region should devote more resources to its outdoor economy as well as manufacturing related to chemicals, plastics and aerospace.

In perfect contrast to his presentation, Deskins was attended by speakers who are part of initiatives and programs managed by or in partnership with the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority.

The mission of the NRGRDA is to initiate, facilitate and support community and economic development efforts in the New River Gorge area.

Jina Belcher, Executive Director of NRGRDA, said that she found Deskins’ presentation very interesting as all of her recommendations correspond to projects and initiatives that NRGRDA is already working on.

“We feel really good about our position as an organization to support the broader statewide goals that (Deskins) spoke about,” she said. “We are starting to focus more on the components of quality of life than on the traditional economic development that the authorities have done in the past.

“We are focusing on workforce development programs with our community and technical colleges and WVU Tech in the region. We focus on supporting real estate developers to try to build new housing for the workforce in the area and we focus on childcare not only for the remote worker but also for the traditional worker. because we recognize that it really is a lack of recruitment.

Belcher said one of NRGRDA’s most exciting projects is a 105-acre industrial park being developed as part of an aviation and aerospace industrial cluster at the County Memorial Airport. from Raleigh.

“Because our focus on the aerospace industry is the most advanced, we hope to see a new aerospace manufacturing company next year so that we can support job creation,” she said.

When it comes to bringing more people to the area and improving the quality of life for current residents, Belcher said the NRGRDA has a number of programs focused on health and business improvement in the area. the region.

She added that progress is also being made in the growth of the outdoor industry.

These programs were highlighted in presentations also given at the economic summit.

Active South West Virginia

Melanie Seiler, Executive Director of Active Southern West Virginia, spoke about the programs they offer that aim to improve the health and quality of life of West Virginia workers in the region.

She said they also have programs for children as well as community members.

Seiler said that one aspect of a healthy lifestyle that the Covid pandemic has brought to light is the importance of social connections.

“We have learned a lot from the pandemic,” she said. “We have learned that our health is very important and that our social connections are very important in achieving these health goals. “

Seiler said that Active Southern WV thrives on connecting with people, a key point for economic success mentioned by Deskins in his presentation on economic forecasting.

Every program Seiler touched on during his presentation involved investing time with participants in order to produce overall health benefits.

“We empower people to take control of their own health,” she said.

For his Kids Run Club, now in 30 elementary schools, Seiler said 75 percent of participating children were able to encourage someone in their home to be more active.

The Kids Run Club is a six to eight week volunteer-led initiative designed to help young people develop healthy and lasting habits.

Seiler said the volunteers who participate in this program are also filling a mentorship gap in the lives of many children in the area caused by a parent or guardian absent due to the opioid epidemic.

Another way Active Southern WV promotes healthy lifestyle choices is through its Community Captain program, which trains individuals to run free physical activity programs in their community.

Activities offered by the Community Captains of Southern West Virginia include walking, hiking, tai chi, yoga, rock climbing, disc golf, water aerobics and more.

Active Southern WV also offers a Workplace Wellness Program, to encourage healthy behaviors in the workplace, and a Bike / Walk program.

Seiler said the future of Active Southern WV lies in expanding these programs to provide more resources to the people of southern West Virginia. Seiler said they would like to expand their network of volunteers as well.

“People want outdoor recreation and they want to be physically active,” she said. “They want to find things to do for their children, they want to be surrounded by healthy friends and families, so we have positioned ourselves to provide these resources in Southern West Virginia and soon throughout the state. . “

West Virginia Beehive

One of the many branches of the NRGRDA is West Virginia Hive, an entrepreneurship program that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs in Southern West Virginia through business counseling and technical assistance.

Judy Moore, executive director of WV Hive, said that since its inception in 2017, they have served more than 300 companies, been instrumental in starting 49 new businesses and helped create 161.5 new jobs. She added that they have also helped companies raise more than $ 4 million in capital.

“We’re really, really proud of these stats,” Moore said.

As part of his model, Moore said they personalize the experience for every business that asks for their help.

“We understand that no two companies have the same challenges and so we are working to create what they need – the path to put them on the path to success,” she said.

Moore said WV Hive is here to provide business support at all times, whether it’s just a sketch of an idea written on a napkin or something that’s more advanced and almost operational.

She added that they were also working with companies that have grown rapidly and need help handling any new business that is brewing as well as with declining companies that may need help getting on board. technology in their business model.

“Our mission is to connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need to be successful,” said Moore.

While each company’s plan is customized to meet their needs, Moore said all companies received one-on-one assistance from a WV Hive business advisor.

She said they also offer workshops as well as more in-depth training courses for new and existing businesses.

Another program offered by WV Hive is the Healing Community’s Recovery to Work program, which Moore says aims to give people struggling with drug addiction a second chance.

“The whole mission behind this program is to shatter the perception that community investment in recovery programs comes at the expense of economic development assistance,” she said.

She said they do this by working with companies to hire people on takeovers.

A list of all the services offered by WV Hive is available on its website,, which is also where people can ask for help.

WV Hive serves 12 counties: Braxton, Fayette, Greenbrier, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Summers, Webster and Wyoming.

Angel County Road Network

Thanks to the work done by WV Hive, Moore said he realized that businesses not only need help planning and executing their business idea, but some also need financing to start their businesses.

“One of the biggest challenges – and it’s still one of the biggest challenges for companies moving forward – is funding,” Moore said.

To meet this need, the NRGRDA created the County Road Angel Network (CRAN) in 2019. It is also led by Moore as the Managing Director.

“The primary goal of CRAN’s development is to provide investment opportunities for innovative startups and growth companies across West Virginia (…)

She added that CRAN is the only certified angel investment network in the state and serves the entire state.

Moore said CRAN currently has 21 investors who play a direct role in choosing which companies to invest in.

She described the process as similar to “Shark Tank”.

As part of the process, companies apply for funding from CRAN and then a number are chosen to present their business to potential investors at CRAN meetings.

To date, Moore said CRAN has reviewed more than 30 investment opportunities and made three investments totaling $ 410,000, which has been used by business owners to leverage an additional $ 2 million.

These investments went to Iconic Air and Endolumik, Inc. of Morgantown and Mountain Steer Meat Company in White Sulfur Springs.

In addition to funds, Moore said investors also serve as mentors to these companies and provide mentorship to companies that are not chosen to receive funds.

Moore said the goal is to attract more than 40 investors to CRAN to help West Virginia businesses.

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