Montgomery & Smithers
COMMUNITY CASE STUDY

in montgomery and smithers, two towns formed a unique partnership to collaborate for success.

On July 2, 2021, residents gathered on a sunny evening outside the Smithers Gateway Center for the monthly First Fridays Farmers Market. This market regularly draws vendors and shoppers from throughout Kanawha and Fayette counties, and even more-so on that day. It was the start of the July Fourth weekend and the unveiling of the community’s new Urban Walking Trail. Mayor Anne Cavalier of Smithers and Mayor Greg Ingram of Montgomery chatted with community members before presenting the new trail to the residents. A small crowd formed around the newly installed sign for the walking trail, wrapped up and covered with a large red bow.

The walking trail is the latest in a series of community-driven, collaborative projects that are making Montgomery and Smithers vibrant places to live, work, and play. 

Located in the Upper Kanawha Valley region of West Virginia, the “sister cities” of Montgomery and Smithers, have a combined population of 2,696. These communities, separated only by the Kanawha River, are just 25 miles from the New River Gorge Bridge and home of the country’s newest National Park. Many travelers take Rt. 60 directly from Charleston to Fayetteville, passing right through this community along the way.

“We know that the future of this area has a lot to do with tourism, and we know where we sit geographically. We’re in a sweet spot,” said Mayor Cavalier. Community leaders and volunteers are looking to provide tourists with more reasons to stop and enjoy the assets that both Montgomery and Smithers have to offer. The monthly farmers market, a new event established by a community volunteer team, is just one of these assets. With the addition of the market, walking trail, murals, signage, and more small and large-scale improvement projects, all efforts led by the community, these two towns are working to make their area more visitor-friendly.

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 communities of Montgomery & Smithers exemplify:

Developing diverse local leadership

Many of the community’s projects are driven by volunteers as well as a leadership group known as the Upper Kanawha Valley Strategic Initiative Council, a collaborative council that enables the two towns to partner formally on projects that benefit both areas. The Strategic Initiative Council is an ideal model that opens up new opportunities for communities that are geographically close to one another.

While Montgomery and Smithers are two municipalities, they are able to function as one community through their cooperative agreement. The Strategic Initiative Council is focused on making positive change by sharing ideas, collaborating on cross-community programs, and even sharing funds and resources to advance goals that are mutually beneficial to both towns.

Through this collaborative council, the two towns are able to bring diverse voices to the table when making decisions that impact the entire community. In addition to the mayors of each town, the council includes a councilperson and business owner from both Montgomery and Smithers as well as shared legal counsel. Community members are welcomed to attend Strategic Initiative Council meetings.

As the residents collaboratively identified tourism as a cornerstone opportunity in building their economies, they recognized that focusing on support for small businesses would be a lynchpin in ensuring that they have a strong foundation for their towns to grow.

The businesses are our lifeblood. The more diverse businesses, the better.

Mayor Anne Cavelier

Small businesses became a crucial part of the strategies created by the Strategic Initiative Council, and the voices of business owners from both communities as a part of the council were a critical piece of actualizing their ideas. “We knew, almost organically, that we not only needed elected leadership, we needed the business community involved. If we were going to grow the communities, if we were going to build the economic base of these communities, we had to hear from the business people,” said Mayor Cavalier.

Building a common vision and executing a plan

Though their collaborations have already seen great success, the members of the Strategic Initiative Council have a common vision to grow and sustain their work, and the trust and relationships are established to help them be successful in their efforts. 

The success of the Strategic Initiative Council hinges on the ability of the representatives from both communities to identify common challenges and generate solutions to address them. The two towns regularly share resources, like equipment and even employees, to save the towns, and ultimately, residents, money. They cooperate to go after shared funding opportunities to solve challenges that mutually benefit both communities.

Leaders in Montgomery and Smithers identified abandoned and dilapidated properties as being a significant challenge in both towns, and put forward the solution of a code enforcement officer to help address this concern. Hiring a code enforcement officer presented its own challenge for these two towns that need to make every dollar count in their municipal budgets. In combining their efforts through the council, Montgomery and Smithers were able to hire a joint code enforcement officer to help tackle the issues of abandoned and dilapidated buildings in the community.

Maintaining and growing volunteerism & civic engagement

Like many communities in West Virginia, Montgomery and Smithers are no strangers to navigating economic hardship. A few key events led to the loss of jobs in their community. The decline of the coal industry has had a significant impact on their area over time. In 2017, West Virginia University Institute of Technology (WVU Tech) moved their entire campus from Montgomery to Beckley, taking nearly 300 jobs with it. Then, in 2019, the local high school in Smithers closed and jobs ended along with it.

“It was a devastating blow,” said Mayor Ingram while speaking of losing WVU Tech in their community. 

Failure is not getting knocked down; failure is when you don’t get back up.

Mayor Greg Ingram

Through the Strategic Initiative Council, there are pathways and relationships in place to bring forward the voices of many residents in both Montgomery and Smithers, and community engagement is a key tactic. The leadership on the Council has placed a strong emphasis on being transparent in acknowledging the community challenges and collaborative in identifying solutions, and the trust built through this unique partnership creates the climate needed for the two towns to weather shocks and downtowns in their economies together. 

“We’re all in this together, and we’re either going to solve it together or we’re going to go down together,” said Mayor Cavalier. 

Through community-wide participation in the WV Community Development Hub’s Cultivate West Virginia program, 20 resident-led teams are moving forward small scale projects to build momentum in Montgomery and Smithers. Public art, special events like the farmers market and yoga classes, streetscaping and signage, a community garden, and more projects help to engage volunteers and build the foundation for positive change that is led by residents. Community members have their own agency when proposing projects and are offered as many resources and tools as possible. Ultimately, these volunteers take initiative and grow in their leadership through the projects. New leaders are identified and welcomed into the work of the community. 

Community leaders and volunteers in the area are hopeful, and businesses and organizations see the value in Montgomery and Smithers. BridgeValley Community and Technical College is now taking up many of the buildings left behind by WVU Tech, bringing jobs and economic growth to the community. Start-ups, like Ranger Scientific, are establishing roots in the community. And more recently, West Virginia State University Extension assigned an Extension Agent to Montgomery and Smithers to build community and economic development in the Upper Kanawha Valley region.

The residents of Montgomery and Smithers became experts at working together, and they found that they thrive when more people are welcomed into their efforts. “We’re not always going to agree, but we’re always going to support each other,” said Mayor Cavalier.

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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: a statewide land bank 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