Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Young and Professional

Alliance Focuses on Retaining and Attracting Young Professionals
Read Article by Sarah Winn in the Charleston Gazette

November 21, 2006
Young & professional

City’s up-and-comers find strength in numbers

By Sarah K. Winn
Staff writer

After 10 years away, Amy King, an attorney at Spilman Thomas & Battle, moved back to Charleston less than a month ago.

For young professionals like her, getting into the swing of life in Charleston sometimes is difficult. And for those already working here, staying invested in their community — through more jobs, social events and networking — is also key.

“I’m very lucky,” King said after a recent meeting of the Charleston Area Alliance’s Young Professionals group. “I immediately met other professionals my age.”

Made up of the young and the young at heart, the group is in its infancy in the capital city.

The Charleston Area Alliance brought up the idea of a young professionals group in October 2005. Executive Vice President Matt Ballard, soon to be the Alliance’s president, was tapped to get the group running.

“It’s important to retain young, educated folks,” Ballard said. “It’s something that companies look at when they decide to locate here.”

The first meetings consisted of about six people talking about the lack of downtown housing. Now, the group has about 89 members on its mailing list, gained mostly by word of mouth, Ballard said. The group tries to meet monthly and has just formed official committees.

“Charleston is a wonderful place as a young professional to have a career,” said co-chairwoman Erica Mani, an attorney with Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love. “This group has given them [young professionals] a chance to put the word out, to socialize and grow.”

Brad Rowe, the group’s other co-chairman, grew up in Charleston and came back from Texas just over a year ago. His first involvement with the group came after attending a meeting about the need for downtown housing.

“Most of the people that I grew up with are gone,” said Rowe, director of operations at a Charleston real estate company. “If we can get [young professionals] involved [with their community], they will stay.”

Rowe and Mani have already had informal conversations with similar groups in Parkersburg, Morgantown and Huntington. Morgantown’s group is just forming, while the Parkersburg and Huntington groups are slightly more established, Mani said.

The groups want to form a statewide mission to help with grant funding and have regular social events.

On Nov. 15, the Charleston group held their monthly meeting at Charleston’s Embassy Suites. During the meeting, the 38 attendees separated into committees and outlined their goals for 2007.

The 40 under 40 committee is working on recognizing the top 40 professionals under 40 years old in the state. The recognition and subsequent gala is the biggest goal for 2007, Ballard said.

The networking committee is finalizing plans for a social event in December, in lieu of a monthly meeting and the non-profit committee will help place group members on non-profit boards. On the membership front, current members are asked to bring a guest to the next meeting to receive a prize.

While the committees are established, there is always room for more people, Ballard said. And, an all-consuming time commitment is not necessary, he said.

“You can become as involved as you like,” he said. “We are still growing.”

“I don’t think we require a huge time commitment,” Mani added.

For Laura Davis, an interior designer with Williamson Shriver Architects in Charleston, returning to her home state to work was a big decision.

“Chicago, Orlando, Charlotte — they all have a lot to offer,” she said. “I luckily got a big opportunity to stay here. There’s not a lot of design opportunities in the state.”

Expecting Charleston to change without young leadership is unrealistic, she said.

“If people have expectations of their community, they need to get involved,” she said.

Davis heads the networking committee, which is planning a December event and wants to have monthly social events.

So what is next for the group?

Ballard is sending out an e-mail blast to Alliance businesses to encourage their young employees to get involved. While Ballard will soon have new duties as president of the Alliance (he officially takes office on Dec. 1), he doesn’t plan to abandon the group.

His goal in the next few years is simple.

“I hope one day that if you are a young professional coming into the area you would hear all about us before you get here,” he said.

To get involved or be included on the group’s e-mail list, contact Matt Ballard at 340-4253 or

To contact Gazette staff writer Sarah K. Winn, use e-mail or call 348-5156.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Governor Manchin Named States Co-Chairman of Appalachian Regional Commission

Nov 16, 2006

Contact: Tom Hunter, 304-558-3848

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Joe Manchin has been selected by the governors of the Appalachian states to serve as Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) states co-chair for the year 2007. The governor will assume the leadership position, currently held by Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, in January.

“I am honored to serve as states co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission,” Governor Manchin said. “Our states, our region and our country must chart a new course to supply more of our own energy resources to be more energy independent. The ARC has taken a leading role in these efforts with its focus on development of a regional energy blueprint for our resource-rich region. With the pending federal reauthorization of ARC, I look forward to working with our leaders on Capitol Hill to ensure that the Commission has a viable future to continue addressing the many critical infrastructure and economic needs of our region.“

Governor Manchin will take a very active role in assisting with the ARC’s continued development of an energy plan for the Appalachian region. He also currently serves a chairman of the Southern States Energy Board, a regional organization composed of 16 southern states and two U.S. territories that focuses on enhancing economic development in the south through innovations in energy and environmental policies, programs and technologies.

“I welcome the selection of Governor Joe Manchin III of West Virginia as the 2007 States' Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission," said ARC Federal Co-Chair Anne Pope. "He is a leader with vision who has devised an innovative energy plan for his state that will help the Commission in implementing its own recently announced regional energy blueprint. I look forward to working with him on all the economic challenges facing the Appalachian Region.”

Established by Congress in 1965, ARC is a unique federal-state partnership composed of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a presidential appointee representing the federal government. Grassroots participation is provided through local development districts—multi-county organizations with boards made up of elected officials, business people and other local leaders.

The commission is dedicated to providing opportunities for self-sustaining economic development and improved quality of life in the Appalachian states. The Appalachian Region includes 406 counties in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The West Virginia Development Office administers the state’s ARC program.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Alliance Incubator Marks 20 Years

From the Charleston Daily Mail.
W.Va. small business incubator marks 20 years

George Hohmann
Daily Mail business editor

Thursday November 09, 2006
The Charleston Area Alliance is marking the 20th anniversary of its small business incubator.

Michael Aeiker, the alliance's senior vice president, said over the years the incubator has hosted 104 companies that have created an estimated 257 jobs.

The goal of a business incubator is to grow businesses and jobs. Aeiker said the incubator has not only succeeded in achieving that goal, it "has stimulated new life back into not only the old building known as the Charleston Hardware building but new life back into Smith Street and the area."

A start-up housed in the incubator receives flexible space at below-market rates that range from $200 to $580 a month. The rates include a package of free and low-cost services, ranging from the free use of several conference rooms to janitorial service provided by Charleston Janitor Service.

The low-cost space and packaged amenities allow entrepreneurs to focus on growth rather than bricks, mortar and administrative issues.

Alliance President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Ballard said the incubator "provides people with a transition space, from their home to the commercial market."

Outgoing Alliance President and CEO Bill Goode said about 75 percent of the incubator's tenants have succeeded in staying in business for five years or longer. Some, like American Geotech, Computer Care Inc. and U.S. Bearing and Power Transmission Corp., graduated out of the incubator and eventually bought their own buildings.

NGK Spark Plugs took some office space 10 years ago while its factory was being built in Sissonville. New Finishing Line, a company that makes auto care products, has an office it will maintain until it opens a manufacturing plant in 2008.

The incubator is in the same structure that houses the alliance's offices. In fact, the building at 1116 Smith St. has become a one-stop shop for small businesses. The incubator's current lineup of 17 tenants includes 14 small businesses and three agencies that assist small businesses: the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which offers counseling; the Regional Contracting Assistance Center, which offers federal contracting assistance; and a U.S. Department of Commerce office that offers import-export assistance.

Kathleen DuBois said she was working in Washington State a few years ago when she attended a conference and Harry Mills, a former alliance executive, told her about the incubator.

DuBois, a West Virginia native, said she wanted to return home. She made the move in March 2003, renting the smallest incubator office available for her company, Progressity Development Solutions. The company provides consulting services in marketing, public relations and fundraising.

Progressity has since moved into a 1,114-square-foot suite on the fourth floor. It is the first tenant to occupy space on the floor. Aeiker said eight other office suites on the fourth floor are available and can be built out in 30 to 45 days to meet tenants' needs.

In addition to access to business services like copiers and fax machines, startups that join Progressity on the fourth floor will notice new heating and cooling systems, a sprinkler system, an elevator, new restrooms and a spacious new fire stairwell.

All incubator tenants have free on-site parking, the use of several conference rooms, and access to the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The alliance even has some used office furniture that is available to tenants who need it.

Progressity's space is edgy with purple ductwork and green walls ("they're the colors in our logo -- green because we help clients grow; purple for the passion we have for what we do"); glass block windows; and concrete floors with large, colorful rugs.

The space was, in fact, designed to meet Progressity's needs. Hidden just off the front lobby is a kitchenette for the staff. DuBois' office includes a cozy meeting area.

"Being in a facility where the landlord really cares -- you can't put a value on that," DuBois said. "And being in a facility with other entrepreneurs is inspiring."

"Moving into this space has changed our whole business," she said. "It has given the company more credibility. And now our clients want to come here to meet with us."

Aeiker said, "My concept design for the fourth floor was to retain as much of the original brick, concrete and wood look as possible, giving the new suites a look that will be unusual for incubators. The loft-style suites add character, the exposed ductwork and its bright colors gives a much-desired look for young professionals looking for space as they start their businesses."

The space occupied by the incubator has grown over the years, starting with offices on the first floor and second floors. Renovations on the third floor, completed in 1988, added 14 offices. The 13,248-square-foot fourth floor was renovated at a cost of $568,857.

Goode said the incubator is self-supporting, in that the rents collected pay the operating costs. Entrepreneurs must submit a business plan before the alliance will consider renting space to them.

Tenants receive a one-year lease that can be renewed up to four times. Several tenants are designated as anchor tenants. Ballard said the anchors provide the incubator with a consistent revenue stream.

The incubator at what is now the Charleston Area Alliance was one of the first in the state. There are currently about six incubators operating in West Virginia, Goode said.

Contact writer George Hohmann at 348-4836.