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.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The article below appeared in this week's State Journal. It discusses Generation West Virginia, as well as Generation Charleston, the Charleston Area Alliance's emerging leaders group.

Furthering the Cause

As Generation West Virginia gains two regional groups, organization shifts from introductions to action.

Story by Ann Ali

When Gov. Joe Manchin wanted bold ideas from young voices to improve the state and enhance its image, he immediately looked to Generation West Virginia.

He called for a male and female representative from each of six respective regional groups under Generation West Virginia, and he hosted two meetings in 2008.

If the group were a musical act, the critics would talk about how it quickly paid its dues, used connections and shot to the top of the charts.

The movement of working West Virginians ages 21-45 began about five years ago with individuals in different regions of the state growing concerned about the same thing: the mass exodus of young people. Over time, the individuals started organizing with others who shared their fears, worries and determination to change the trend.

"We're still very new, so we're partnering until we get a lot of our programming under way," said Paul Daugherty, chairman for Generation West Virginia and one of the founders of the state's early organizations, Young Emerging Leaders of the Mid-Ohio Valley, which serves Parkersburg and Marietta, Ohio. He also is a board member for Generation Morgantown.

"That's our goal -- to put a plan in action; we have a big dream and overarching vision, and, for success, we know that we have to complete small tasks with great effort."

'A Fairly New Phenomenon'

The statewide organization had a big year in 2008: an official launch with an inaugural Young Leadership Conference, a large monetary gift from Wal-Mart, a development grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, an election of a leadership team, the launch of the Generation West Virginia Demographic Survey, a partnership with Vision Shared and startups of two more regional groups.

Communities, businesses and nonprofits now have a solid place to turn when seeking new members, volunteers or opinions of the young demographic they all crave.

Emily Bennington, director of marketing and development for Charleston accountants Dixon Hughes PLLC, said the emergence of young professionals' organizations in West Virginia is "a fairly new phenomenon," gaining real voices in respective communities.

"One of the best examples of Generation West Virginia's recent growth is the fact that we were contacted by Gov. Manchin to help him identify and implement new ways to keep young professionals in the state," Bennington said. "He challenged us to think of bold, innovative ideas that could create real impact, and we take that charge very seriously."

The movement started with Daugherty in Parkersburg. He wanted to build opportunities for young people to start and build their careers, so he and a friend researched similar groups in other parts of the country. At the same time, an attorney in Huntington started to rally the city's young professionals to share resources as the Young Professionals' Committee of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"In these six regions of West Virginia, the different groups of young leaders were interested in how do we retain, attract and advance young talent within the state ... so as each group got started, we each, through our own professional networks, began connecting the dots," Daugherty said last year about the organization's genesis.

In Morgantown, Ashley Hardesty said she was unaware of the first two groups.
She said she simply wanted to find more individuals in town who weren't established professionals or students, so she sent an e-mail to all of her friends and asked those friends to send it to all of theirs.

Talk during a statewide retreat for employees of law firm Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love LLP helped Generation Charleston come next as part of Charleston Area Alliance. Martinsburg got its start with just four lawyers and help from other groups still finding their footing.

The founding members of regional groups found out about one another and decided to get together in February 2007 to share concerns and interests. They met a few months after that to smooth the edges of a statewide platform, and, after that, Wheeling added its own group -- OVConnect.

"And I'm happy to announce that groups affiliated with Generation West Virginia are forming in Beckley and the Pendleton County area," Daugherty said. "It's really been one of these things where each group has popped up in its own time frame, and it seems there's about one or two that develop each year."

What They're Doing

Generation West Virginia isn't a fraternity or exclusively for attorneys.

Daugherty said the organization has three components: a voice for a younger generation that never existed before, a source of professional development and a networking organization to retain, attract and advance young talent.

Events vary from speed networking and nonprofit matchmaking to beer-tasting events benefiting West Virginia University Children's Hospital.

"We've had a lot of people that put a lot of hard work into putting on good events and making sure that people have a reason to want to come out and meet people," said Justin Seibert with OVConnect.

"Our goal is within any quarter of the year that we have events in each of those categories, so hopefully we put on three or four events a year that appeal to everyone."

Seibert said his OVConnect's ultimate goal is to be the face of the demographic for the Ohio Valley, to tip the scales for anyone looking to move to the area or questioning staying.

"It's a little more palpable now when people say there's nothing really to do here," he said. "We can say, 'Look, we put out a newsletter with 50-plus events going on.'"

In Huntington, Vice Chairman Adam Daniels said the group constantly refines its approach, but it wants to set itself apart by providing networking, recreation, education and community development opportunities.

"We want to set ourselves apart from other organizations by providing more than just e-mails and a monthly lunch meeting," Daniels said. "As our tagline states, we focus on 'Developing Leaders. Building Relationships. Achieving Results.'

"We aim to do this by providing networking and recreational activities for our members to grow those relationships in formal and informal ways."

And structure is important, too.

Hardesty said Generation Morgantown boosted its numbers with regular social events, and this year it launched new committees. Seibert said OVConnect added board members to share the work.

"We are very systematic, so it's not the Justin Seibert show, and we have that succession plan in place," he said. "Our two buzzwords are 'networking' and 'inclusive.'"

Young Professionals of the Eastern Panhandle now has about 75 participants who attend events, according to R.B. Seem, vice president of commercial lending for MVB Bank.

"We typically meet monthly for mixers for all of our members to mingle and get to know the other young professionals in the area, but as we have grown, we have also started to become active with some community service activities," Seem said.

"We have teamed up with the Martinsburg Afternoon Rotary to conduct the Salvation Army toy drive, and this year we were able to provide gifts for 195 children in the community that would not otherwise have had a Christmas.

"Our members are not just buying little gifts -- they are purchasing gaming systems, bikes, clothes and many other Christmas gifts."

What's Next?

In a state where discussions seldom lead to plans and plans even more rarely lead to action, the strides Generation West Virginia has made are impressive. Daugherty said only two or three other states have such an initiative.

"It's energizing to me as a member of that generation to see my peers stepping up and taking the responsibility," said Juliet Terry, president of Vision Shared, which began providing administrative support for Generation West Virginia early in 2008.

"I think the communication aspect is really what's most critical ... so the fact that these different groups exist and are working together so successfully means that their potential for success is huge.

"Generation West Virginia can really show this state how we're all really on the same team here, and each region has its own special place on the field."

Bennington said all the effort spread throughout regions of West Virginia truly seems to have pushed a statewide movement.

"I look at what we've accomplished in Charleston and think that if this is going on across the state, and I know it is, West Virginia will not only keep our young professionals home, but the state will continue to improve in ways we can only imagine," she said. "I've met representatives from every single group within Generation West Virginia.

"They all have different backgrounds and professions, but everyone has volunteered to be part of this movement because they love their state and want to create more opportunities here."

Daugherty said the upcoming year will include town hall forums starting with Morgantown. That town hall meeting is scheduled for Jan. 27 at the WVU President's home. Two more meetings will be scheduled in Huntington and Wheeling.

The group also took a statewide survey to assess true interest in topics, such as health care, education, housing, arts and culture and child care. The results will be released early this year in a report to Manchin and legislative leadership.

A best practices toolkit will be rolled out this month to help any other regional groups pick up and get started, and the second annual Generation West Virginia's Young Leadership Conference, in partnership with the West Virginia Leadership Conference, is scheduled for April.

"The first GWV Conference consisted of publicly launching GWV, education and leadership development workshops," Daugherty said. "This was a phenomenal experience with almost three times the expected number of people attending the event -- over 180."


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