CRA Co-Chair Gayle Manchin Hosts Roundtable on Economic Development at Chamber Business Summit | State and region

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Appalachian business leaders gathered at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulfur Springs on Sept. 1 for the 86th Annual Meeting and West Virginia Chamber Business Summit.

The session – titled ARISE: A Multi-State Model for Economic Development – ​​featured a panel comprised of seven of the most prominent outdoor industry executives in the Appalachian region. Gayle Manchin, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) acted as moderator.

“We are 13 states (in the Appalachian region),” Manchin began. “In this region, there are 423 counties. There are about 26 million people. There are only two entities in this country that are comparable to this – California and Texas.

“Think about it,” Manchin continued. “We are the third largest region in this country. We weren’t called “the 13 states of Appalachia”; we were named the Appalachian Regional Commission. So today we are talking about lifting our region.

Manchin explained that “because of President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure plan,” every federal agency received additional funding “to do better things across this country.”

“We are concerned about what we can do in the Appalachian region,” Manchin noted. “So I ruled out, during our last monthly call (ARC), the possibility of talking about tourism. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of our states decided to work together around tourism?”

During the call, the executive director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, Jina Belcher, along with Danny Twilley, assistant vice president of economic, community and asset development for the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, maintained a register of Member States that had expressed interest in a collaborative effort to promote tourism.

“Commissioner Manchin challenged those on this call to identify an industry cluster that we believe could really move the needle in Appalachia,” Belcher told those in attendance. “During this conversation, we realized there were a lot of common themes among the states represented on the call.”

Belcher explained that for most states in the region, the outdoor economic industry was that common “industry cluster,” adding, “It has grown from just a tourism-related initiative to a real tourism-related initiative. outdoor industry.

Belcher then described the three stages of the economic development model – the readiness spectrum – used by ARC: ideation, incubation and acceleration.

“We (West Virginia) see ourselves as an incubating state,” Belcher noted. “We have the resources at our fingertips, but we still have more to learn from other states around us that have industry.”

“A lot of times economic development stops at some type of boundary,” Twilley said at the end of Belcher’s remarks. “So we really started going there and saying, ‘Here we have this idea that we still have more questions than answers. But if you’re willing to come learn with us, we’re willing to try to figure this out together.

“The second fundamental approach we had,” Twilley continued, “was that, if we could take our collective knowledge and identify this idea of ​​’centers of gravity’ – and if we could take this knowledge that often lives in isolation – how could we extend this to other areas?”

“It becomes our knowledge,” Twilley concluded. “We have to be ready to share it and we have to start collaborating.”

Manchin then moved the conversation to Tennessee RiverLine manager Brad Collett, asking him to talk about Tennessee’s “state of ideation.”

“What I think is really interesting about the Tennessee RiverLine initiative is that it really connects to this idea of ​​transforming our region,” Collett began. “Tennessee RiverLine’s vision is truly ambitious – to establish a 652-mile system of paddling, hiking and biking experiences along the Tennessee River.”

“It transforms the way we see this landscape,” Collett continued. “The landscape unifies us across the states – it challenges us to think of the river, the adjacent public lands, and the 32 counties and 43 cities and towns incorporated along it as a 1.2 million synthetic park acres. It’s twice the size of the Great Smoky Mountains, and it connects this whole region.

“But more than recreation and tourism, it’s an economic development and entrepreneurship strategy,” Collett added, before deferring to Hannah Kirby, fundraising strategist and grants manager for Tennessee Riverline.

“On a scale from tourism to really micro-economic development — so far, the Tennessee RiverLine has been very active in programming over the past two to three years,” Kirby said. “Something else has happened in the last two or three years – what is it? The corona-something?

“We’ve seen this phenomenal engagement in outdoor recreation opportunities because that’s all people could do for so long,” Kirby added. “And they realized the natural resources, the assets, that we have throughout the Tennessee River Valley – all over Appalachia.”

“This is, in a nutshell, what ideation looks like in Tennessee,” Kirby concluded.

Next, co-directors Sara Chester and Molly Hemstreet of North Carolina-based Industrial Commons spoke. The pair discussed North Carolina’s position as an “accelerator state.”

“We work in an area of ​​western North Carolina where we’ve seen a lot of job losses,” Chester said. “Similar to here (West Virginia), but for us it was textiles and furniture. At one point, our four county region had lost 40,000 jobs in 10 years. We were at 16% unemployment.

“What [we] wanted to do was not to throw these industries away, but to find a way to reinvent them,” Chester added. “A big part of our job is to create a new vision for our economy in Western North Carolina that is not just about economic development and community development, but also about supply chain development. . With the help of ARC, we launched the Carolina Textile District (CTD) in 2014.”

According to Chester, the CTD connects “hundreds of businesses” between North and South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania with a reliable national supply chain.

“One of the things we’re working on is developing a formal ‘institute’ where we can train other communities – especially rural communities,” Chester noted. “We believe that the challenges of rural communities are specific compared to more urban areas.”

“We cannot create other Industrial Commons or other Carolina Textile Districts in other regions,” Chester concluded. “But what we can do is teach communities how to look at the assets they have and how to leverage those assets, institutions and industries to create a new, more resilient economy.”

Hemstreet began his remarks by telling the audience about his drive from North Carolina to West Virginia, saying, “We were getting to know the New River coming here. It is one of the oldest rivers in the world and originates in North Carolina. And it got us thinking about how the rivers and mountains that mark our beautiful region naturally cross state lines.

“Another thing that naturally crosses state lines is supply chains,” Hemstreet continued, before shifting the conversation.

“I’m going to shake it up a bit here and tell you about the socks,” Hemstreet said. “We have a really phenomenal project going on with Smartwool (clothing company). If you’ve been walking these trails or paddling these rivers, you could very well have worn Smartwool socks. This is a very high quality product – still made right here in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Hemstreet explained that rather than outsourcing its workforce to the international market, Smartwool chose to “keep its work here” in the United States.

“Socks are the most thrown away item you have,” Hemstreet added. “The average American throws away about 70 pounds of textiles every year, and that’s something that’s often very difficult to recycle. So the project that we did with Smartwool, we started with them one of the largest circular scale projects in the United States.

Hemstreet explained that the aim of the project is to recover Smartwool’s “waste streams” and convert them back into raw material for the manufacture of new products.

“It’s really the circular economy,” Hemstreet said. “And it’s happening right here in our communities.”

At the end of Hemstreet’s remarks, Manchin again took the microphone and noted, “One of the things that has really strengthened us (ARC) at the federal level are the conversations that ARC has with the secretary at the Commerce, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency.

“And how do we make sure we don’t step on each other’s toes?” Manchin asked, before handing the microphone over to the final panelist, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Coal Communities Coordinator, Courtney Haynes.

“At the Economic Development Administration, we are quite flexible in our regular appropriations for funding,” Haynes told those in attendance. “We have provided a lot of funding over the past two years. And over the last year and a half – with the CARES Act, with the US bailout – the EDA has grown from a very small agency, typically $300 million, to over $3 billion basically from day to day.

According to Haynes, the additional federal funding allowed the EDA to “really design programs that met the needs of the states – of these regional economies. It allowed us to think things differently and have conversations with outside stakeholders.

“We are providing all funding through the US bailout by the end of September,” Haynes added. “But in the 13 states served by the ARC, $611 million has already been distributed – $59.4 million in the state of West Virginia alone – and more will come.”

At the end of the panel discussion, Manchin told the audience, “ARISE stands for Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies – because of course everything has to be an acronym. But it’s this concept of how much bigger, how much more transformational we can be as a region.

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