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, June 03, 2008

Below is an op-ed that appeared in the Charleston Gazette June 2. It comes from Charleston Area Alliance President and CEO Matt Ballard and Chairman Jack Rossi and outlines the Alliance's true goals.

Get Involved

FOUR years ago, visionary business and community leaders came together to create a new organization dedicated to building a more vibrant community and prosperous economy - the Charleston Area Alliance.

At that time, there were a number of groups working on their own to achieve the goal of a better and brighter tomorrow for our region. However, by virtue of their individual missions, they viewed our future through separate prisms and often were unable to mount a big-picture response to the challenges and opportunities on the horizon. Their effectiveness was also hampered by limited financial and staff resources.

Respected leaders including Newton Thomas, Thomas Potter, Thad Epps, Bill McDavid, Bob Gray, Jim Sturgeon, John Ruddick, Pat Bond, Joe Jones and representatives from the Kanawha County Commission and City of Charleston understood that a comprehensive, holistic approach was needed to achieve real progress for the Kanawha Valley. Their vision guided the formation of the Charleston Area Alliance, a multi-faceted economic, business and community development organization.

The alliance combined three groups - the Charleston Renaissance, the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Business and Industrial Development Corporation (BIDCO) - to work in concert to improve our community and make the most effective and efficient use of resources to pursue that goal.

In the four short years since its creation, the alliance has emerged as a catalyst for innovative efforts to attract and retain jobs to our region and to create a community that we can be proud to call home. The work of our predecessor organizations has been amplified through the synergies and efficiencies created from the reorganization. This new structure has been the foundation for many recent successes in improving the area's economic climate and quality of life, including:

n Retaining 600 good-paying jobs in downtown Charleston at CASCI.
n Building a model energy-efficient home in the East End neighborhood.
n Working with our state, county and city partners to recruit the Japanese chemical company Kureha - and a new $100 million plant - to Belle.
n Leading efforts for Gateway Greenspace, a sustainable park underway near the Clay Center.
n Bringing area auto dealers and Kanawha County schools together to create an automotive co-op program that trains area students for good-paying jobs currently available in our community.
n
Promoting fa├žade grants, free wireless Internet service and other neighborhood improvements through our award-winning East End Main Street program.
n Launching the 500-plus member Generation Charleston to engage and empower emerging leaders and keep the best and brightest in our community.

These accomplishments barely skim the surface of the myriad programs and services we provide to attract new jobs and investments, help area businesses accelerate profitability, promote community and cultural enhancements, and develop the talent and resources to sustain success, today and tomorrow.

The alliance is composed of more than 600 businesses and organizations representing 40,000 employees, who are leading our community forward, igniting success, expanding opportunity and building a better future that we all can share. Nearly 80 percent of our budget is provided by our members, who, through their financial support and participation, are collectively shaping the future of the region - and making a wise investment in their own success.

Our private support is supplemented by the funding we receive from Kanawha County and the City of Charleston, both of which have designated the alliance as their official economic development services provider. We are proud to serve the county and city - and ultimately our citizens - in this capacity and are steadfastly committed to providing them with the superior service they expect and deserve.

The alliance's founders understood that effective legislative and public policy leadership - traditional functions of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce - would be key to success in building a more vibrant community and prosperous economy. Because certain regulations prohibit organizations that receive public funds from undertaking political activity, the founders structured the new organization so that chamber work would be set apart from the other programs and services provided by the alliance. Accordingly, the chamber remains affiliated with the alliance, but maintains separate bank accounts and is governed by a different board of directors. No public funds (state, county or city) are ever used to support chamber activity.

The Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce is our region's advocate for legislation and other measures to create jobs and improve quality of life for our residents. In 2006, for example, the chamber successfully led community efforts to pass the safety levy, which funded emergency services in rural areas of the county. During the 2008 legislative session, the chamber worked to promote non-partisan election of judges, long-term health-care insurance, responsible reductions in business taxes, metro government, regional rail options, investing in scientific research and reducing tobacco use.

The Charleston chamber's effectiveness in serving the businesses and citizens of our area has been significantly enhanced by working with the alliance, just as the economic and community development initiatives advanced by the former Charleston Renaissance and BIDCO have benefited through their consolidation. Our directors, volunteers and staff understand that an integrated approach is needed to help our businesses, neighborhoods and citizens, and share ideas, contacts and experience to ensure that all alliance activity works in harmony to bring meaningful improvements to the Kanawha Valley.

We are proud of the tremendous progress we have made and the positive change we have inspired, but we know there is much work to be done to meet the challenges facing our region. We embrace these challenges and look forward to continuing to drive the destiny of our region, building a more vibrant community and prosperous economy.

But we can't do it on our own. As a member-based organization, we are only as effective as the strength, size and vitality of our membership and the support of our community. All of our programs, board meetings and other activities are open to the public, member and non-member alike. We invite you to visit our Web site, http://www.charlestonareaalliance.org/, to learn about our upcoming events and how you can get involved in this dynamic organization.

Four years ago, our founders understood that challenging times required bold action, so they created the Charleston Area Alliance. We are honored to carry their charge forward and invite you to join us on this exciting journey. We're not waiting for things to change, and neither should you.

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