At Create WV we like to say we are anti-nothing, only pro-West Virginia.
Create WW works to build and improve the innovation economy in this state. What’s the “innovation economy?” Also called the “new economy” or the “creative economy,” the innovation economy is the economy created by people with knowledge-based skills.
Many of these innovators are our own people! Create WV aims to make West Virginia a place where the creative class can thrive, and we do it by promoting the five pillars of the innovation economy: education, entrepreneurship, technology, diversity, and quality of place.
I think the innovation economy is extremely important, but it’s only part of the larger solution. Allow me to explain.
My ideas for the future are numerous. I’m young, excited, and haven’t had my love for this great state stamped out of me by well-meaning but fatalistic people, who think they’re doing me a favor by telling me not to get my hopes up.
I love West Virginia. However, I can’t deny that our current economy needs some adjustment in order to move forward (and we are always moving, in some direction).
But there are a few things we need to understand. First, there is no one solution. And the solutions won’t be the same across the board. What works for Princeton will not necessarily work for Fairmont. There is no one industry that can come in and replace coal, or Mom & Pop shops, or whatever it was that was there but is not anymore.
Rather, 18 or 20 small businesses and entrepreneurs in one town will come together to offer alternatives (plural) to unemployment and dying industry. The innovation economy has enormous potential for West Virginia, but if we only have the innovation economy we are letting so much else go to waste.
Second, there is hope. I have it. I know a lot of people who do. There is good work going on. We have a wonderful quality of place and we have young people who are trying very hard to find a way to stay here. We have natural beauty and a unique knack for making great things out of almost nothing (read: innovating). All we need to do is put the hope and the innovation together, and we will be in business. Some people are doing it; it’s time for the rest of us to join in.
Third–and this is harder for those of us who like to see immediate results–change is slow. Sustainable change will progress at a snail’s pace, or so it will seem. But its effects will last, because communities will be invested in them. One person can make a change, but it takes a village to sustain a change.
The kind of West Virginia I want to see is one a lot like Fayetteville, where we are holding our annual conference this year. Fayetteville has capitalized on its natural attractions, and entrepreneurs are the norm. Chain restaurants and stores are few and far between; instead the town takes pride in supporting its local businesses. The County Commission is supportive of new ideas, and the unique restaurants that have sprung up are a tourist destination in their own right. I don’t want Strip Mall West Virginia; I want a West Virginia where we take our old buildings and give them new life. I understand that this kind of change can take years and years to happen, and I’m committed to stick around for it.
I’m not out to change the world. My job at Create WV is to open a hole to make it possible for someone else to do so. West Virginia needs alternative economies for innovators and creative entrepreneurs to flourish here. The status quo is not good enough.
Does that make me better than what we have now? No. It means that we all deserve better than what we’re giving ourselves. So West Virginia, in the words of Donna Meagle, “Treat Yoself.”