The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA) and the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Authority (GVEDC) are working collaboratively to diversify the economy of southeastern West Virginia. The collaborative is seeking $580,000 in assistance from the POWER initiative to support Phase I of a multi-phase strategy to diversify the regional economy. These federal funds will leverage an approximate 1.9 million in local, regional and private investments, including cash and in-kind contributions.
Phase I includes a request to the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to support the implementation of the multi-location regional business accelerator project, The West Virginia HIVE. This project will assist new entrepreneurs, as well as current businesses who may be impacted by the decline of the coal industry, with new business opportunities. (Counties served: Fayette, Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Summers and Webster)
Additionally, in Phase I, this collaborative is seeking assistance from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to support two planning projects:
- The feasibility of a large-scale aggregation point and distribution center at the crossroads of Interstates 64 and 77 near Beckley to support local foods initiatives in the Greenbrier and New River Valleys. (Counties served: Fayette, Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Summers and Webster)
- The feasibility and strategy development for a new “super” revolving loan fund to support new and immerging businesses in a 10 county area of southern WV. (Counties served: Fayette, Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Summers, Webster and Wyoming)
These efforts will include diversification strategies for a large region of southern West Virginia which has been adversely impacted by the shift in the demand for Appalachian coal as well as negative impact on the related support industries. Example: the current poverty rate in the New River Gorge region (four-county area) is 20.29 percent. The labor force participation rate is 48 percent, 15 percent lower than the national average. This can be attributed to a variety of challenges within the region, including: the recent and continued high job losses in traditional industries such as coal mining and its related support businesses. As of spring 2015, the average unemployment rate in the NRG region was 9.1 percent, 1.6 points above the state average. Specifically the rates in Fayette and Nicholas counties are significantly higher at 10 percent. The continued decline of the coal industry has had a direct impact on these higher numbers in all four counties.
This emerging collaborative should be recognized for its efforts for crossing local jurisdictional and traditional boundaries to address a serious economic downturn. Participating partners in support of the GVEDC and NRGRDA include, but are not limited to: New River Community and Technical College, the Region I Workforce Development Board, West Virginia University, Wyoming County EDA, Regions I and 4 Planning and Development Councils, United Mine Workers of America Career Centers Inc., and several private sector entities.