My favorite quote from this issue: “I’m not here by apology. I’m here by choice.”
Alex Reneman of Mountain Leverage in Grafton is a great example of an entrepreneur who is not only making a difference in his community, but is doing so through work that extends beyond our state lines. That seems to be a theme through this issue. From Alex’s inspirational story (page 68) to Allegheny Restoration’s significant work nationally (page 72) to Gat Creek’s (page 80) astonishing transformation of a traditional manufacturing model that now exports to 28 countries around the world, West Virginia companies are growing, employing more people, and making a difference.
I’ve thought a lot about his comment, “I’m not here by apology.” I don’t know about you, but I agree with Alex, and I think it is high time West Virginians stopped apologizing. We are more than a ranking, and we are more than a stereotype.
Two years ago, we created a campaign called The Struggle to Stay. Our mission was to identify the issues that cause people to leave the state so that we could better understand how to solve the problem. It wasn’t to create a platform for complainers—its purpose was to give those who were feeling disenfranchised a platform for their frustration, so as a state we’d have direction for change. I called Scott Finn at West Virginia Public Broadcasting from the front porch of my home one evening and told him about the concept. Public Broadcasting ended up joining us as we launched a social media campaign that quickly went viral. They even ended up securing a grant to further pursue the idea with a regular segment titled “The Struggle to Stay.” Clearly, we touched a nerve.
Why do some struggle? After all was said and done, there were three issues that were most prevalent—lack of good-paying job opportunities, lack of progressive leadership and vision, and lack of diversity. But one resounding statement that we heard over and over was, “I want to remain, but ….”
So in response, we are launching part two—and this campaign is called Reasons to Remain.
What are the reasons to remain in West Virginia? We want you to share your thoughts. And yes, I might just summon my Southern Baptist upbringing and deliver a sermon—and you can, too. Need inspiration? Look no further than this magazine. Every story highlights reasons. Look at what’s happening in the tiny town of Capon Bridge (page 90). Or what Gat Caperton has built in Berkeley Springs. Or what Allegheny Restoration and Builders has done over the last 30 years—restore not just many of West Virginia’s important structures, but also some of the country’s most significant historic places. Or why folks like Greg and Amy Byrne bought a farm outside Shepherdstown to breed hogs.
Despite negative national press, we are doing some things right. As a Clay County native, I am thrilled with Clay’s school system’s efforts to give every child some form of entrepreneurial education. Read about the EntreEd program and its successes on page 57. I can’t help but think that I, as a child, would have been greatly served by this program. Maybe my tadpole-selling and rock-painting ventures would have taken off.
It is time to change our attitudes. Instead of focusing on the negative, let’s look at all the wonderful aspects of living and working in West Virginia. Let’s focus on what we are doing right. Learn from that. Lift those up who are making our state better each day. Reward local businesses and help them grow.
And in case you are wondering, my second favorite quote from Alex is: “You might walk in here and think, man, these are a bunch of hillbilly hippies, sitting around the fire singing ‘Kumbaya’, talking about love. And that’s true. But when the battle starts, look out. You don’t want to be on the other side ….”
Preach it, brother.
written by NIKKI BOWMAN