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.

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.

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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