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.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Young professionals focused on brightening state's future


August 12, 2007

FLATWOODS -- A group of about 25 young working men and women from across West Virginia gathered Friday and Saturday in Flatwoods to talk about the future of their state.

Their realms of expertise varied greatly -- from law to finance to making guitars to designing buildings. And the issues facing their communities of Huntington, Charleston, Parkersburg and Martinsburg vary as well.

But they all have some common goals: to create a business environment and quality of life in West Virginia that not only keeps its best and brightest here in the state, but draws others as well -- and in turn moves the entire state forward.

Their group, Generation West Virginia, is young in more ways than one. Not only does it target those with a young, progressive mindset about how to initiate change, but it's still pinning down the identity it wants to portray to the state.

They want to tackle roadblocks along that path to progress and educate their peers on legislative matters and policies that affect them and the future of the state.

There are about 650,000 people between the ages of 18 and 44 in the state, said Joe Randolph, vice chairman of the Young Professionals Committee in Huntington, a committee of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce. He hopes this group can lead them in finding their voice.

"I feel as though they don't feel like they have a say in their state and hometown, and this may identify with them," said Randolph, a financial consultant and manager of the A.G. Edwards branch in Huntington. "This could be a voice for that generation."

Generation West Virginia has a market that is vast -- young workers and artisans, or students who will one day be working in the state. Some have children, some don't.

But they nailed down some areas where West Virginia shines, and some things they think need addressed if it's to build its future in step with other states, or catch up with them.

Ashley Hardesty, a Morgantown attorney with Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, heads up a team that took at look at why they themselves stayed in West Virginia, and why they think some of their friends have left.

Not only did many of them stay because of family and roots, but because of the slower pace and shorter commute to work, as well as the lower cost of living and West Virginia's neighborly, friendly culture. The physical beauty of the state and the fact that they have a chance to make a difference here were reasons as well, Hardesty said.

However, some reasons other young people have left are that they get more competitive income in other states, or there were problems with shipping and transportation that made it difficult to run a business here, as well as spotty cell phone service. Others have cited a lack of progressive ideas and diversity in the state as reasons for their leaving.

"The biggest solution we've come up with is education -- pretty much across the board," Hardesty said. Kids need to be educated in financial literacy, high school and college-age students need to know there are opportunities here in the state, today's workers must learn to turn their ideas and research into commercial enterprises, and some members of the older generation could get acquainted with changes needed for economic development.

Generation West Virginia members talked about how the state needs more capitalists willing to take risks on fledgling businesses here. They talked about quality-of-life issues, such as housing, entertainment and child care, and how important it is to preserve the state's values -- avoiding the rat race and keeping the friendly atmosphere -- while moving forward.

"I'm here because West Virginia is an excellent place to live for young people, and I think those qualities need to be highlighted, and to this point, I don't think they have been," said Andrew White, an entrepreneur who owns Andrew White Guitars in Morgantown. "If people are not feeling satisfied, what would make them more satisfied? This group has fingers all over the state, reaching people in each region to find out what we can do to maximize the positive and minimize the negative."

They can learn from each other's successes and mistakes, he said. "It prevents you from wasting a lot of time," White said.

Though it's still in its developmental stages, Generation West Virginia is already a success story, said Chris Slaughter, chairman of Huntington's Young Professionals Committee.

"We want to show that West Virginia's young and talented aren't all leaving," said Slaughter, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson. "That's what this group's existence shows."

And the group is engaged, trying to share ideas to make a difference.

"The state has had a regional mentality, and this is not about that," he said. "How can we join together and make a difference? I think that's going to be this group's enduring strength. This group is doing a good job of identifying common ground and common goals -- and it's doing a good job of accepting differences."

The best outcome for the group would be "to enhance progressive thinking and foster a culture where people are looking for opportunity and possibility, rather than seeing a barrier," Slaughter said. "Another thing we can do is raise the level of pride we have. The ingredients we have for greatness are right here (in the state). We don't have to import them."


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