Two towns make a community: How collaboration unlocks new possibilities

Greg Ingram, Mayor of Montgomery

BY JENNY TOTTEN, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR, THE HUB

When the backbone of a community suffers, it takes creative thought and a willingness to take a risk on innovative approaches to keep moving forward. The two municipalities of Montgomery and Smithers in Eastern Kanawha and Fayette Counties have confronted this issue head-on by working together to achieve a greater sense of community. The neighboring communities, separated only by the Kanawha River, realized the need to work together as their economies were declining. Each of the towns’ residents frequently cross the river to work, shop, and go to school, so the towns’ representatives realized collaboration is key. The Hub hosted Dr. Anne Cavalier, Mayor of Smithers, Greg Ingram, Mayor of Montgomery, and Beth Fish, a business owner in Smithers, during our most recent Community Conversation to hear about the Strategic Initiatives Council and its work in revitalizing these two towns.

Dr. Anne Cavalier, Mayor of Smithers

To frame this conversation, Mayor Ingram shared a brief history of the struggle of the two municipalities, which began when the WV Turnpike was built to pass around, instead of through, the communities in the 1990s. More recently, Montgomery-Fayette High School closed in Smithers, and WVU Tech moved its operations from Montgomery to Beckley, taking nearly 2,500 students and 350 employees with it. As a result, both mayors saw businesses leave and budgets decline.  

The two mayors, along with business owners and other representatives from both communities, came together to create the Upper Kanawha Valley Strategic Initiatives Council. This group’s main purpose is to find ways for the two communities, and the entire Upper Kanawha Valley, to intentionally work together, share resources, and build a stronger region. All of this work was not easy, and our three guests shared the following five secrets to success for working together.

Over 50 community changemakers attended the March Community Conversation!

Start small.

The two communities initially started by sharing a single sanitation worker position.  This early win has blossomed into including other shared opportunities such as code enforcement, equipment, and participation in community development programs such as Cultivate WV.  

Cooperate on projects.

If two communities or groups are working together towards a common goal that creates visible change, such as a beautification or a community garden project, then the entirety of both communities will feel accomplished and be more likely to engage again.  

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Forming the Strategic Initiatives Council into a formal legal entity created a stir with the Secretary of State’s office as it had never been done before.  The two communities and their leadership teams remained patient and kept asking the right questions until the organizational structure was created.  

Tear down silos.

It is important to understand that communities are stronger together and that doing what is best for an entire region benefits all of the communities in that region. Dr. Cavalier and Mayor Ingram both have these best interests in mind and regularly recommend resources to each other as well as other communities.  

Share your story.

Dr. Cavalier shared the importance of sharing what is going on as it happens and not just the pretty pictures at the end of a project.  By letting the entire community see these processes, it creates trust and community buy-in. 

Montgomery and Smithers are both part of the WV Hub’s Cultivate WV program this year and are receiving coaching support, technical assistance, and mini-grant support for community projects. They just finished submitting their mini-grant applications, and we’ll announce the awardees in the coming weeks. Follow along as they learn to build stronger teams, engage others, and create a better future for the Upper Kanawha Valley. 

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Parsons

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Message from our Executive Leadership Team

Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

Over the past two years, the team at The Hub has adapted to the unprecedented challenges our communities have faced during the pandemic by leaning into our core strengths to deepen our impact. The Hub remains committed to tackling persistent challenges, and we have focused our attention on the most impactful elements of our work.

We are supporting community leaders to advance their visions for local development, creating new pathways for engagement and leadership growth through our virtual training platform, and leading strategies that lift up voices of community leaders to move forward solutions to long-held challenges to growth.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that nothing about the future is set in stone. While the coming year may present enormous opportunities for advancement in our state, they will also inevitably require significant capacity building, shared strategies that are grounded in trust-based partnerships, and extended efforts to support the leadership development of individuals and organizations who have been asked to do more during a time of extreme stress and strain.

The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Emma Pepper

Director of Strategic Network Communications

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Systemic Change

2021 became a time period of catalytic potential as we saw years of investment into our core strategies to enact systemic change yield new results. Our strategic focus areas include policy, communications, and supporting the community economic development system in leveraging unique financing opportunities such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative and Opportunity Zones.

In addition, through our strategic policy support role within the Abandoned Properties Coalition, The Hub successfully advanced two key objectives: the creation of a statewide land bank at the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation and extension of the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. 

Through the Opportunity Appalachia program, 6 catalytic community projects located in WV-based Opportunity Zones received $250,000 for pre-development technical assistance. Three projects received additional private funding as a result of program participation.

Community Coaching

In 2021, we accompanied 16 communities through our in-depth, professional coaching programs. In addition to leaning into coaching and financing opportunities offered through these programs, participating communities leveraged an additional $2.8 million in funding on their own for community economic development projects. While participating in our entry-level coaching program, Cultivate WV, Montgomery and Smithers realized momentum-building success through access to $40,000 in seed funding for projects like farmers markets, public art, wayfinding, community events, and development of a trail system.

Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

Elkins

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Marlinton

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Charleston

A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Leadership Development

As hundreds of people began to engage in our virtual training activities in 2020, we saw a critical opportunity to scale and deepen our impact. This year, The Hub team developed an accessible, virtual platform with options for self-guided and group learning activities as well as professional coaching.

Kickstart Communities is now the crux of our efforts to bring new people into the work and grow their leadership. These activities now form the foundational stages of a Community Leadership Development Pipeline to move motivated residents from seeing the challenges in their communities to proactively collaborating to resolve them.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.