new martinsville
COMMUNITY CASE STUDY

in new Martinsville, community members are working to grow a vibrant, upbeat main street.

New Martinsville, WV has a population of just over 5,000. During a three-day long music and arts festival held each summer, the number of people roaming the streets of the town’s small, quaint downtown area skyrockets past 20,000. In June of 2021, 23,000 people were drawn to New Martinsville for the Back Home Festival. “We’ve had attendees from all 50 states and multiple countries, and Grammy-award winning artists every year,” said Robby Parsons, the Executive Director of the Wetzel County Convention and Visitors Bureau (Wetzel County CVB). 

Something special is happening in New Martinsville–and it’s clear that the town’s dedicated leaders are doing something right to lend to transformative growth in a very short time.

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 new martinsville exemplifies:

building a common vision and executing a plan

In 2016, the Back Home Festival didn’t even exist. “We were throwing around ideas about how we could get people to come home,” said Robby, “Just six years ago, I was one of those people who thought there was nothing to do in this town.” When Robby started at the Wetzel County CVB in 2016, Sandy Hunt, the now-mayor, was the President. When Robby brought up the idea of the music festival, Sandy was ready to run with it. “It all started with her [Sandy’s] vision, and her passion for the community is contagious,” said Robby. Within a year, the team at the Wetzel County CVB was fully committed to their innovative tactic to drive tourism growth in New Martinsville. 

During the festival’s first year in 2017, over 5,000 people attended. While this is wildly impressive for a small town festival’s first year, the rate of growth the festival has experienced is nearly unheard of, with over 23,000 attendees in its fourth year (the festival was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). This means that the festival has grown 460% since its first year just five years ago. Already, Grammy-award winning acts, like Sam Bush and Billy Strings, have graced the Back Home stages. 

Other than a highly committed and motivated team and a top-tier line-up, what does this team say is a leading factor in their success? The fact that this three-day event is no charge to attend. 

While community leaders may feel reasonably daunted by the idea of spending tourism dollars on a festival that generates no ticket revenue, this is exactly what New Martinsville seems to have done right. For every one dollar spent on tourism, the Back Home Festival generates nine dollars in direct consumer spending in return. “Since the inception of our festival, Wetzel County leads the state in percentage of growth of direct spending due to tourism,” said Robby.

23,000 people wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for the work that we all do.

Holly Morgan, President and CEO of the Wetzel County CVB

maintaining and growing volunteerism & civic engagement

The community of New Martinsville has truly made the Back Home Festival work for it, and community members take pride in being part of the festival. It’s now endorsed by the City, the County Commission, and many local businesses in the area.

This festival is building New Martinsville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem–attendees are purchasing food and drinks from small vendors, shopping at the boutiques on Main Street, visiting local restaurants and coffee shops, spending money on lodging (or, supplies for the free camping at local parks offered throughout the weekend), and buying gas–very often, at the small businesses that are at the heart of New Martinsville’s economy.

A small, but dedicated team pulls off the festival each year. The Wetzel County CVB board members volunteer their time to operate the festival. The board is made up of eight members, who help out by selling tickets to late-night shows, guiding vendors to their set up location, or working a shift at the museum. The stage crew and clean-up crews for the festival are hired out and managed by the CVB. “Typically, we utilize our own friends and family to volunteer for the festival. My parents help with setting up things and tearing down, Sandy’s family and friends run the beer tent, and our friends handle merchandise. One would think that it would take a massive group of staff and volunteers, but it truly doesn’t,” said Holly Morgan, President and CEO of the Wetzel County CVB.

“Two months before the festival, we didn’t even know if it was going to happen,” said Robby. Luckily, the team still managed to pull off its most successful festival yet, and they’re all up for the challenge. “I thrive on the chaos of the event,” said Holly. The size and scope of this event may seem like a big job, but those behind the festival don’t see it as one. “It’s a passion and anytime you’re doing something you’re passionate about, it’s not really work,” said Robby.

utilizing a system of support

Residents of New Martinsville understand that building one festival isn’t enough to create a community – and a resilient economy – that both attracts new people and businesses, and that helps keep current residents and businesses in their community. One of the most remarkable traits of active community leaders in New Martinsville is the way that they tap into new opportunities that come their way. They know they can’t go it alone, and so they look to receive the input of their residents to inform their leadership, and they also leverage the system of support available to them for community and economy building. 

Through the Blueprint Communities® program, residents of New Martinsville received input from community members and wrote a strategic plan to help build their common vision. The community’s leaders have a strong relationship with their community members (and volunteers) who helped steer the direction of the strategic plan, and organizations (like the City, the CVB, the Chamber of Commerce, and the County Commission) are coming together to make this vision a reality. The three goals of the strategic plan include: 

 

  • Business support and expansion
  • Beautification
  • Identifying abandoned/dilapidated properties to repurpose or demolish


To encourage business support and expansion, the City, a local EDA, and the Chamber of Commerce are collaborating to bring small business growth to the region through a new marketing campaign. This year-long campaign is in the works to highlight both tourism and economic development in New Martinsville and surrounding communities. “The strength and the resources that we have here have been underutilized for years,” said Mayor Sandy Hunt, and this campaign is designed to bring visitors to the area and highlight how small businesses can thrive in the community. The campaign will bring about a new website and a television ad campaign in which local businesses can choose to be highlighted in commercials for a much lower cost than would typically be available with the support of these organizations.

Through the Blueprint Communities® program, the community has worked to accomplish two strategic plan goals–beautification and repurposing buildings with a minigrant. Located at Bruce Park, a recreational asset of the community, is a historic, above-ground concrete pool which fell into disrepair in 2010. While it was not feasible to remodel the pool, the City is considering its options to make the space usable again. In order to show how this historic structure is valued by the community, the Blueprint Community team organized a project to implement ten murals around the walls of the pool, turning an unused structure into an art installation. Though this was a small, achievable project, it highlights the value this community has for its history and its shared spaces.

Creating a space in New Martinsville where our kids and grandkids can live, work, and play keeps me motivated.

Mayor Sandy Hunt

do you want to find new ways to improve your community's main street?

Blueprint Communities is a registered service mark of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh.

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