By Sarah Mansheim
Attend almost any municipal or county meeting on a regular basis, and likely you’re going to notice Doug Hylton standing and seeking approval for grant funding. The grant writer has devoted his career to community development, and the Greenbrier County Commission and Ronceverte, Lewisburg, White Sulphur Springs and Rainelle city councils all contract him to find money for their sidewalks, cemeteries, police stations and more.
Hylton says $20 million worth of grants he’s written have poured into the county over the past 14 years – money for health care, trails, sidewalks, “whatever the needs are,” he says.
Hylton came to grant writing in 2000 after taking a part-time job as Ronceverte city administrator. During his first year on the job, grant funding opportunities came across his desk. He wrote eight proposals, none of which panned out. The next year, he wrote more, and received one to the tune of $34,000. Turns out, he says, it wasn’t enough for the project, and he ended up doing a lot of the work himself.
Hylton learned from that first experience, and over the years has become an expert on not only getting funding for government entities, but also evaluating bids, tracking the progress of projects, and following up with the agencies who have granted the funds.
“The funny thing about people who give you money, they want to make sure you do with it what you say you’re going to,” he quips.
Often, grants require a match in funding, and Hylton has learned how to offset matches with other grants, thereby saving cities and the county money.
Municipalities come to Hylton with a problem, and he comes up with a plan. “They need to know what they want,” he says. Often, cities come to him asking for a grant not knowing what exactly they need it for. “I tell them, I can get you a grant for an elephant. Do you want an elephant?” The bottom line is, cities need to know specifics – sidewalk improvements, city hall structural improvements, historical preservation – and he can help them get the money.
Hylton’s hometown of Ronceverte has seen a lot of improvement thanks to grant funds. Thanks to his work with the city council and the Ronceverte Development Corporation, several buildings have been bought and renovated with USDA grant funding, and other state funding has led to ongoing sidewalk improvement projects.
He mentions Jeanette and Scott Hill, a couple who bought four buildings in downtown Ronceverte, thanks to the work of the RDC. “They came in and invested as a direct result of the planning we’ve done downtown.”
Hylton has put his own money where his mouth is, buying and renovating a building on the corner of Frankford Road and Edgar Avenue. The once-dilapidated building is now a nice, bright yellow with large picture windows. Hylton plans to open a 1950’s-style ice cream and parlor in the building. The adjacent buildings have also been purchased and renovated. One houses a security systems storefront and the other will soon hold a beauty parlor.
“I’d like to see more promotion and businesses in Ronceverte. Lewisburg started planning their downtown in the ‘70s. We are lucky to have a town like Lewisburg as a neighbor, and we have them to learn from and build off of.
“A lot of people think Lewisburg has all this money, and we can’t compete with them. But, instead of competing with them, we need to praise them for what they’ve done,” Hylton says.
Hylton has also been working with Rainelle City Council, helping to bring in almost $1 million for sidewalk and recreation trail projects, and with White Sulphur Springs to create a walking trail and pedestrian bridges that will connect Memorial Park to the fish hatchery. He’s been helping Lewisburg with their sidewalk projects as well.
“I love my job. I love working with politicians and communities to make a difference,” Hylton says. “I’ll always remember, the first and only time I met Senator Robert Byrd, he said, ‘People call me a pork barreler for bringing money into the state; but if I don’t do it, someone else will.’”
If Hylton is known as the pork barreler of Greenbrier County, that would probably suit him just fine.