Community and business leaders gathered at the Visitors Center in downtown Lewisburg on Wednesday to have a round table discussion with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant about job development in West Virginia.
Tennant, who is running for United Sates Senator, is on a 55 County “Talk with Tennant Tour.” She also spoke in Hinton on Wednesday prior to arriving in Lewisburg. The Hinton talk was geared towards gathering solutions for combating prescription drug abuse in our state. Tennant announced that she sent a letter earlier this month to the Food and Drug Administration, urging the agency to halt the release of the dangerous new drug called Zohydro.
Upon arriving at Lewisburg s Visitors Center, Tennant stated she has recently launched “The Big Map,” also known as the Business Industry Growth Map, to help West Virginian businesses identify new opportunities for growth and create jobs. “This will help Chambers of Commerce discuss situations with new businesses,” she said. One may go online and peruse what businesses have started or closed in each county on a monthly basis. Find the Big Map online at ww-w.sos.wv.gov.
Tennant asked the room for descriptions of the initiatives which are ongoing locally and demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit which could be “seen as an example for many other counties to follow.”
Katie Ickes, of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC), spoke of working in the schools of Greenbrier County with students and the global entrepreneurial initiative. Ickes said that working with students as they turn 12, and begin to develop their individual brands of themselves, it is important to plant entrepreneurial philosophies then. Ickes referenced books by Ruby Payne which discuss breaking the cycles of poverty by giving youth a better vision of life than they may see within their own.
Ickes also spoke briefly about the Entrepreneurial Cafe competition in which local business startups compete for crowd funded cash prizes to spur small business development.
Mayor Lloyd Haynes of White Sulphur Springs expressed support of the ideals represented with working with the youth of our county and our small businesses trying to get going. Haynes said. “The Greenbrier Classic is a big deal in White Sulphur Springs; what I am working on is helping to change the attitude and frustration of property owners with empty storefronts.” He is encouraging property owners to join in the spirit of entrepreneurialism to revitalize the empty shops in spite of the rough spots in order to build on what the Classic brings to the city.
Larry Levine of Trillium Performing Arts reminded us that Community in Schools has been helping “at-risk” youth in Greenbrier schools for about eight years.
Stephen Weir, Executive Director of GVEDC, added, “When you give hope to youth, you give them something to work for.”’
Tennant said it was great to highlight these philosophies when we talk about breaking the cycle of poverty.
Greenbrier Valley Grown’s, Quincy Lewis, spoke of farming and agriculture as being key to economic development. The “Local Foods Initiative” is helping businesses market themselves better as using locally grown and produced foods in order to build an interest in careers of local food production. Lewis says, “it is important to let children of farmers see all sides of agriculture; sometimes all the children see growing up is how their parents try to work full time and run a farm.’” Farmers used to make a living by farming and that can be the future again if our economic initiatives continue to focus on the entrepreneurial aspects of farming and marketing done right, and the use of locally grown produce continues to be fostered, she said.
Lewis added, “Young new farmers do not always have access to the resources they need to be successful. They need land, skills and knowledge.” Greenbrier Valley Grown is interested in starting a shared farming model in order to provide these resources for farmers.
Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester brought up the idea of thinking outside the box in economic development. The city recently partnered with the non-profit Appalachian Mountian Advocates by offering some financial assistance in turning a dilapidated property into the Montwell Park and Spring Restaurant. Manchester says, “We have created a sustainable project for economic development.” Manchester added that this was the first time the city had partnered using money to get a successful intiative like this to work.
Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe, representing the West Virginia State Fair, pointed out that she has seen twenty years of community leaders and business people coming together for common interests. She noted. “This is what makes Greenbrier County work and that is the willingness to come together and give up some of your personal needs and agendas to get something done that benefits us all.”
On another tangent. Cathey Sawyer, executive director of the Greenbrier Valley Theater, discussed recent state cuts in funding for tourism. Sawyer said, “Tourism, especially cultural tourism is a revenue producing industry on so many levels, the state shouldn’t be cutting marketing budgets for tourism at this time.”
Manchester proposed to Tennant as the United States Senator that she may become, that she would be in a perfect position to back up the push to bring about the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument. West Virginia’s water reputation is dominating the nation’s headlines and certainly will be affecting tourism negatively for some time, he said. Manchester pointed out the irony of the six beautiful rivers around Pocahontas County having the potential of becoming a national monument when the state has this poisonous water brand to fight for the time being. A national monument called the Birthplace of Rivers would go far in repairing West Virginia’s reputation in regards to our water, he added. Tennant concurred.