During the week of April 18th, the Greenbrier Valley EDC and our strategic planning consultants, In-Site Consultants, made a trip to each county to hear from businesses, elected officials, agencies, and other stakeholders on moving the needle on economic development and job creation. Together, we walked through a kind of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) that focused on utilizing assets and seizing opportunities.
This step was one of the first in gathering data for a strategic plan process funded by the US Economic Development Administration. In January, we hired Rob Cornwell and Tonya Crist from Insite Consulting, out of Greenville SC, to help us in this effort. This was the second visit to our area for Rob and Tonya, and the first in meeting with partners to get a boots-on-the-ground view at our communities. They were impressed.
The process continues, and our consultants will be back, but these meetings underscored some pretty important things for me.
- The Greenbrier Valley shows up. More than 100 partners showed up across six meetings. And we are grateful. Partners were excited, thoughtful and serious about supporting communities, businesses and people. This ability to work small and smart is at the top of our asset list. The willingness to work together on solving problems and realizing opportunities will continue to position the Greenbrier Valley exactly where we need to be.
- We value our environment and natural resources. Clean air, clean water, outdoor recreation, a healthy environment for our families – these assets were listed time and again as regional strengths. They are the reason why tourism and outdoor recreation are a thriving and growing industry. They are a reason our forestry and wood product companies have found sustainable homes here. They are the reason why we love to live here. Sustainable businesses and business practices that mirror this appreciation of natural resources are a must for our future. Development and conservation cannot be mutually exclusive.
- We have an incredible product. Natural assets, people, partnerships alluded to above, PLUS transportation assets, incredible communities, and untapped possibilities – the Greenbrier Valley has them in spades. Marketing the area for growth is at the root of what we do, and all the reasons folks say “yes” to the Greenbrier Valley were reinforced by our meetings.
We’ve got some challenges, of course we do. But there are local solutions emerging on almost every front – recovery resources, infrastructure, workforce strategies, and education. At the top of the list – retaining our young people –means not only creating more jobs and career pathways for them, it means getting more youth to the table, and listening.
The need for available, affordable housing also continued to pop up on our challenge list. (Big thanks to WVU and Daniel Eades, who are helping us understand the issues surrounding workforce housing as part of our planning efforts.) If you are working on housing (or want to) and haven’t talked to us, please let us know.
Insite Consulting will be back a few more times as we continue to work toward the final plan due out in October. Rob and Tonya have agreed to speak at our Annual Dinner to give a bit of a preview and insight on paths forward. Save the date for July 13th, 6pm, at the Schoolhouse Hotel.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend our meetings, or have something to say regarding our process, please reach out to me – firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-497-4300. I would love to hear from you. If it helps prompt, here is a link to some guiding questions.
These meetings didn’t provide all the answers, there was no earth-shattering news presented, but the sense of community that was shared over these three days was a gift. Thanks to those who showed up, and to those who are working every day to give our communities good businesses and good jobs.
I’ll see you soon,