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

It has been a year of abundant opportunities and partnerships across the state, and a year that has pushed all of us to work harder, faster, and smarter – together.At The Hub, we say that “the work works when you put in the work.” This means that our approach to community-based development, and individual leadership development, really does transform local communities, especially when we all work together for the same goal, and stay committed to working together for the long haul.A growing number of towns across the state are putting themselves on the “growth map.” Princeton, Richwood, Elkins, New Martinsville, Parsons, Petersburg, White Sulphur Springs, and so many more communities we have worked with are all putting in thousands of hours of volunteer work. This commitment has helped local leaders improve their communities. These improvements can be seen increasingly through the growth of local economic and business development in each of these towns.We extend our deepest gratitude to everyone for being part of the larger Hub community as we reflect on this year’s deep impact in West Virginia communities through our work. We are thrilled to have champions who believe in our mission that every community in West Virginia can achieve economic growth when they are supported with the tools and training they need to lead and spark positive change.We believe strongly in the fact that putting in the work yourself to improve your neighborhood, your town, and our state is where true transformational change happens. With strategic partners and thought leaders like you in the work with us, we continue to be able to walk alongside community teams as they do the work to uplift their communities.Thank you to all of the community teams and leaders who are brave enough to keep showing up every day. Your determination in the face of difficult work and far-off successes is something to applaud yourself for, and celebrate together.Whether you’re volunteering on the ground in your community, sharing our stories of hope with your friends and neighbors, or attending a virtual event with The Hub, your participation in our work is what keeps it going. Thank you for all your work and support this past year, and we are excited to continue in the work with you in 2023!In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

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.

Partner Feature:

Our work is made possible thanks to incredible partnerships with other community development organizations across the state. From local economic development authorities (EDAs) to state level nonprofits working to uplift communities, all of our partners are crucial in making West Virginia the best it can possibly be by working together.One partner that made our work truly profound this year is Coalfield Development. For years, Coalfield Development has worked to rebuild Appalachian communities by inspiring the courage to grow, activating the creativity to innovate, and cultivating communities of opportunity in central Appalachia.We are proud to be part of Coalfield Development’s ACT Now Coalition, a broad network of organizations working hand-in-hand to uplift communities throughout Southern West Virginia. The ACT Now Coalition is infusing more than $63 million into programs to help communities using business development, building revitalization, and so much more.The Hub is leading the Community and Business Resilience Initiative as part of the larger ACT Now Coalition to bring other partners with us to build up community and business resilience in the Coalition’s footprint.“For decades, we’ve known the economy of southern West Virginia needs diversification. Some progress has been made on this goal, but not nearly enough,” Brandon Dennison, CEO of Coalfield Development, said about the ACT Now Coalition. “ACT Now constitutes a tangible opportunity to take a major leap forward in this generational challenge to become a vibrant, growing, diversified economy. In the wake of continued coal-job losses, nothing could be more important for our region.”Our partnership with Coalfield Development is giving us a chance to take our work to new communities and to build upon our years of experience. Working alongside Coalfield Development in this large undertaking to bring $63.8 million to communities in Southern West Virginia is validation that the work happening to uplift West Virginia communities continues to grow.

Community Feature:

The Hub works alongside communities across West Virginia coaching community teams as they come together to make transformative changes in their towns. In 2022, one town stands out for its continued work and unwavering commitment to making its community a place where people want to live, work, play, and visit.Petersburg, located in Grant County at the northernmost point of the Mon Forest, is filled with community members who want to make their town a destination. Not only have businesses opened, and stayed open, the town has transformed the way they present to the world through rebranding and outdoor recreational development.As part of the HubCAP IV program, Petersburg utilized its technical assistance to push forward with projects to bring transformative change to its community. Part of the work Petersburg worked towards was creating plans to pave a hike and bike trail that runs along the Petersburg dike. The proposed trail will run approximately three miles along the Petersburg dike and will include multiple entrances for walkers and bikers. The group secured a $25,000 grant from Senator Hamilton, which was matched locally by the City of Petersburg, the County Commission, and the Board of Education, each adding an equal share to bring the total to $50,000.This year, Petersburg witnessed a major upgrade to one of the town’s most iconic and historic structures: The Hermitage Inn. The hotel, which dates back to 1841, has been renovated and once again welcomes guests to stay the night and have a nice dinner in the restaurant.The Hermitage Inn is the first project initiated and completed as part of the Downtown Appalachia: Revitalizing Recreational Economies (DARRE) program. Seeing the old hotel returned to its majesty has been an incredible development for Petersburg adding another jewel to the downtown area.Seeing Hub communities come together to create transformative change thrills us. Community members are the subject matter experts on what their towns need. Our commitment to accompaniment and walking alongside communities as they do the hard work guides us in our work. Celebrating their victories with them gives us a moment to uplift those making the work happen.

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.

DEI Journey:

Since 2018, The Hub has been working diligently to bring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into our work. For years, the organization has been working internally to expand on one of our core values: “We believe diversity creates strength.”We believe that now is a time when we must work from the ground up to commit to long-term efforts to build power through leadership development, programmatic strategies, and partnerships that commit to building power and advancing racial equity.Looking back at our organizational history, we acknowledge that our work in rural communities with populations of less than 15,000 has not reached a diverse cross-section of people in West Virginia. Because of this, we began to ask, “Who isn’t here?” when examining our involvement in communities. The social unrest in 2020 led us to examine our role in white supremacy, ableism, classism, and gender discrimination, and the ways we have perpetuated unjust systems in our communities and across West Virginia.Since 2020, our equity journey has included a staff racial equity learning series, making internal commitments to increasing our hiring and retainment of diverse staff including creating full-time Racial Equity Fellowship and VISTA positions, committing to increased coaching for rural communities of color across the state, and tackling the inherent challenges of advancing equity across the community development field within a highly rural, majority white state where Black and brown leadership has been historically marginalized and under-invested.Our belief in the power of local people to see the value and the potential of their place, and of each other, is at the core of our belief in the potential we have to build power in West Virginia to advance racial equity, inclusion, and accessibility while disrupting systems that have historically excluded some communities.We are committed to engaging in conversations to uplift communities and leaders of color to move from talk to action on why race matters in West Virginia as we work to disrupt these systems. We will support investment in Black-led organizations and rural Black leadership. And we are committed to driving public and private investments into these spaces, both organizational and geographic.

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.