Cowen
community case study

In Cowen, West Virginia, community members are rebuilding their future with intention.

Cowen is a small town located in Central West Virginia along the gateway of the Monongahela National Forest. With a population of only 564, to say that Cowen is a close-knit community is an understatement. Situated between two popular tourist locations, Snowshoe Mountain and Summersville Lake, and near up-and-coming destinations like Richwood and Marlinton, Cowen has ample opportunity to transform into a recreational tourism hub.

Rural Community Building Best Practices

West Virginia communities of all sizes are engaging in innovative work. Many of these communities exemplify our Rural Community Building Best Practices, guideposts identified through evidence-based research processes. By looking to these communities as models, we can work together to replicate small wins and major successes.

The community of Cowen exemplifies:

Leveraging Financial Opportunities

Cowen is a prime example of a community that takes every positive opportunity that comes their way. After participating in the Cultivate WV program in 2019, where community teams successfully completed 24 small-scale community projects, residents were eager to maintain the momentum built and take their plans even further.  

In 2020, Cowen entered The Hub’s Communities of Achievement Program (HubCAP) alongside five other communities in the Monongahela Forest region. HubCAP supports community teams over a multi-year period to move forward a mid- to large-scale community development projects from initial idea to long-term implementation and financing. As part of their participation in HubCAP, Cowen will increase their online reach with a new website and marketing push, and they will increase the capacity of the community overall by bringing in an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) to support with the long-term strategic growth of their town. 

Cowen residents recently signed on for the brand new initiative Downtown Appalachia: Revitalizing Recreational Economies (DARRE) a partnership between the WV Northern Brownfields Assistance Center, Woodlands Development & Lending, Partner Community Capital (formerly Natural Capital Investment), and the WV Community Development Hub. The partners working on the DARRE program support participating towns with the kinds of technical assistance that primes historic downtown areas for new investment and growth.  

The team in Cowen is looking to fellow communities like Marlinton and Richwood for inspiration. “We want to make Cowen a more interesting place to visit,” said Mayor Gerald Dornburg, “We need to become a destination.”

One of the biggest community and economy building projects ongoing in Cowen is the B&O Pond. The town is working to increase its recreational assets with a fishing pond, trail development, and maps of the walking trails throughout town. With the help of Webster County Economic Development Authority, the Town of Cowen received a $25,000 grant from the National Park Service and $20,000 from the Center for Rural Health Development. The town matched this with $5,000 for a total of $50,000 for Phase I of the B&O Pond Project. This includes adding picnic tables, grading and graveling a road, and clearing out around the pond. Future phases of the project will include the development of rail trails to help connect Cowen to other communities in the Monongahela Forest region.

We want to make Cowen a more interesting place to visit. We need to become a destination.

Mayor Gerald Dornburg

Cowen is also leveraging its partner connections through a new initiative led by West Virginia University’s Fulcrum Project, a program that connects students and faculty who provide technical assistance to assets and opportunities that communities have identified for project implementation. In Cowen, the community agreed to move forward with building a gazebo at the library. The Cowen Public Library Director, Naomi Hagerman, pitched this idea to the HubCAP team because a gazebo will allow community members a place to use wifi on days that the library is not open and will provide a resting spot for the walking trails the community is implementing. 

Developing diverse local leadership

Naomi is a core member of the HubCAP community volunteer team and has been the Library Director for a year and a half. She took the role because she wanted to be more involved in community building work. Because she doesn’t live within city limits, she cannot run for any kind of elected leadership, but that doesn’t prevent her from playing a major role in her community. In addition to working at the library, Naomi is on the board of the local Family Resource Network (FRN) and works to build partnerships between the library, the FRN, and the City through fundraisers and other community events. 

The educators working alongside Naomi play a major role in Cowen’s community building journey. “Some teachers dedicate their entire lives to it,” said Naomi. And once people start volunteering in their community, they tend to commit, keeping volunteer retention high. When a town has a small population like Cowen, it’s crucial that those who get involved stay involved.

Centering Inclusivity, Collaboration, and Communication

Working at the library, Naomi feels it is her duty to provide the residents of Cowen with the information they need to have every opportunity for success. “People come here for answers,” said Naomi. She recently received a national grant for the library to implement a personal passion project of her own–teaching financial literacy workshops. She has long been known as someone in the community who is financially literate and provides advice to people of all ages, and now, she’s been granted the capacity to provide this service on a more official level. Naomi’s workshops covers topics like opening a bank account, saving for retirement, learning about investing, and more. Through these workshops, Naomi hopes to teach residents of Cowen how to acquire more wealth and to de-stigmatize talking about finances–especially for the younger population to start off on the right foot.

The library is a community pillar.

Naomi Hagerman, Cowen Public Library Director

In addition to the workshops, Naomi is working towards her goal of educating the community by increasing the library’s online presence. She made an entirely new website for the library and started promoting its services on social media to increase community participation for events, and she’s working to add as much value to the community as possible through the library’s programs and resources. “The library is a community pillar,” said Naomi.

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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