BY DAN TAYLOR, ENERGIZING ENTREPRENEURIAL COMMUNITIES PROGRAM COORDINATOR, THE HUB
A cool new project is afoot at the Coal River Group, leaders of the movement to grow recreational tourism in southern West Virginia.
Using funding from a WV Development Office grant, they are unveiling Coal River U, a new service to provide specialized consulting and business development support for existing and start up entrepreneurs in the Coal River Watershed Region.
“We see a need for many new businesses to support the growing kayak-based tourism economy in our region,” says Bill Currey, chairman of the nonprofit group. “We are fortunate to have funding available to provide support to existing businesses and startups to design websites, add social media, along with help and advice for incorporating new businesses, obtaining permits and a host of services which people need,” Bill added.
Entrepreneur training, referrals, and finance assistance are key. Coal River U subjects for learning include money management, legal and permits, business planning, financial resources, equipment, buildings and land, food and beverage service, and marketing.
The program will continue through early July 2018, and the funding will be available to primarily those businesses that are developing services and sales to river-based kayak markets and tourists who come to the 88-mile-long Coal River Water Trail.
Registration forms and more information about Coal River U may be obtained by contacting Justin with the Coal River Group: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The need for new business providers in the tourism industry has grown tremendously throughout the state,” Bill said.
The growth in flatwater kayaking has outstripped the state’s availability of boat launches, river parking, campsites and many other tourism support services.
“The need for camping in the Boone, Lincoln, and western Kanawha Counties is great,” Bill continued. “We simply do not have the beds to serve the demand from our growing number of visitors… The visitors from outside the region need food, supplies and services, which in our rural regions is hard to find.”
Bill also sited a need for transportation services for boats and people to and from the boat launches and landings.
The upcoming season is also seeing growth in the major river based events in the region. These river events include the huge Tour De Coal community float in St. Albans, WV. The event has had over 1,000 participants for the past two years.
The City of St. Albans, in 2018, has partnered with the non-profit Coal River Group which sponsors the Tour De Coal to create the new YAK FEST. It should be an exciting two days in St. Albans on June 15 and 16 when thousands of people arrive ready to paddle the Coal River and enjoy the music, craft beer and river exhibitions planned for the Old Main Plaza in that city’s revitalized center of town.
So, Coal River U hopes to be a promising new vehicle to revitalize our communities, especially in southern West Virginia, and create jobs and small businesses. But, on the flip side as stated, those coming to visit southern West Virginia need services as well, to spend their money in our communities.