Rural Community Building Best Practices

In 2019, The Hub held focus groups in five communities and surveyed over 150 community leaders and community development practitioners across 17 additional communities. Responses from participating West Virginians were evaluated by our team (with the support of an independent research firm) to better understand community progress over the prior decade of community development work in West Virginia.

Through this research, The Hub identified six best practices that drive successful community building efforts in rural cities and towns across the state.

About the Best Practices

The Hub is part of a network of West Virginians that are vibrant, engaged, and committed to bringing about innovative approaches to rural community development rarely seen anywhere else. 

Our research identified a sense of optimism, hope, and positive momentum across the volunteers and practitioners working in West Virginia’s community development field that is a unique and under-explored aspect of this work not captured by available quantitative data. 

Despite the lack of quantitative data tracking the collective impact of the community development field in our state, success stories of innovative, strategic approaches to rural community building in West Virginia have been documented. Rural communities have powerful lessons to share about strategies for low-resourced, locally-driven community development that can be implemented in cities and towns throughout West Virginia and across the nation.

BEST PRACTICE #1

Maintaining and growing volunteerism & civic engagement

A broad base of volunteers and individuals committed to making positive local change stands behind every successful community. Positive momentum in communities tracks with overall volunteerism and engagement. Conversely, as volunteer engagement declines, overall community progress slows as well. Achieving long-term success hinges on a community’s ability to keep volunteers engaged over the long haul.

BEST PRACTICE #2

Developing diverse local leadership

Successful work requires a mix of committed local leaders, including: 1) individual leaders who inspire others to get involved and take action in their community; 2) organizational leaders at local businesses and nonprofits who lend capacity; and 3) civic leaders who are committed to driving positive change through policy and governance.

BEST PRACTICE #3

Building a common vision and executing a plan

The practice of uniting people behind a common vision is a critical element of achieving and maintaining progress. Not every project or undertaking in a community will succeed, but the communities that stay positive and solution-oriented, commit to sustained progress toward the goals laid out in their plan, and celebrate the small victories along the way are the ones poised for long-term success.

BEST PRACTICE #4

Centering inclusivity, collaboration and communication

Turning points happen when local leaders intentionally decide to work together and try something new. Having regular – and consistent – community meetings and conversation, being welcoming and transparent, talking across traditional community silos, and intentionally reaching everyone in the community are key strategies to build momentum, promote collective ownership (of both successes and challenges) and foster buy-in for community efforts.  

BEST PRACTICE #5

Utilizing a system of support

Communities making progress take advantage of and benefit from a wide range of educational opportunities, training programs, and additional resources from providers to build local capacity.

BEST PRACTICE #6

Leveraging financial opportunities

Strategically leveraging available funding sources to support work is a key component of success in under-resourced communities. This includes identifying large and small-scale public and private investment opportunities as well as funding partners to drive projects forward.  

Interested in learning more about our community building research?

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.

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.

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.

Parsons

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

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.

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.

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.

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