WILLIAMSON – Local and regional leaders, joined by officials from four federal agencies, gathered Tuesday at the Health Innovation Hub, to examine emerging opportunities for diversifying and strengthening the economy of southern W.Va.
The meeting focused on emerging economic development strategies such as strengthening the local food economy, growing the health care sector, fostering entrepreneurship and small business growth, boosting regional tourism and supporting advanced manufacturing.
The afternoon meeting followed a morning of site visits that showcased recent local initiatives that are funded in part by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and other federal agencies and foundations that are helping advance the area’s economic transition.
Earl Gohl, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission said, “Appalachia is the next investment opportunity. You have a ton of opportunities, the question is, how do you graduate them?”
Brandon Dennison, Executive Director of the Coalfield Development Corporation discussed the challenges the area is faced with during the economic transition. “The challenges we are trying to overcome in southern W.Va. are very complex and it is generational,” Dennison said.
The site visits focused on major federal interagency partnerships that are supporting the diversification effort in Williamson.
Leasha Johnson, Executive Director for the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority (MCRA) discussed the importance of partnerships. Johnson said, “Partnership collaboration is our pathway to success.”
“We are embracing the need for diversification,” Leasha continued.
One area the site visits focused on was Williamson’s Local Foods Local Places Program (LFLP). The LFLP program centers on growing a vibrant local food economy, which can boost downtown revitalization, improve community health and encourage entrepreneurship.
Elanor Starmer, Senior Advisor to the Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture said, “I am really excited to see where it goes and how we can help others learn from what you are doing.”
Williamson was one of eight Appalachian winners in the White House Rural Council partnership between ARC, the U.S Department of Agriculture, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S Department of Transportation and the Delta Regional Authority.
Williamson’s leaders have harnessed the resources of other organizations in their diversification efforts. These include the West Virginia Community Development Hub, which coaches community members in identifying assets, setting goals, and implementing strategies to revitalize their communities and the West Virginia Food and Farm coalition.
Dr. Dino Beckett, Director of the Williamson Health and Wellness Center said, “The clinic will continue to be the economic driver for the community. The success story we have in a short amount of time can be credited to cohesiveness. Everyone that is involved is what makes it so successful. We don’t have time to look back because we keep looking forward.”
Beckett explained the need to embrace outside assistance. “We have to be receptive to outside help. We have to welcome outsiders in becoming an integral part of our community,” Beckett said.
Williamson’s efforts have garnered major outside recognition, including last year’s Culture of Health Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Williamson Health and Wellness Center was selected for major grand funding through the White House Rural Council’s Rural Health Philanthropy Partnership.
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2279.)