The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 26, 2013

Blueprint Communities learn how to better selves

By Jessica Farrish
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Business owners, municipal officers and other representatives of several local towns gathered at Tamarack Thursday to envision their cities’ futures and to set goals and gain knowledge on how to create those futures.

Sophia, Hinton, Richwood, Marlinton, Princeton and Bluefield were represented at the Blueprint Communities workshop, part of a 10-month program facilitated by The Hub, a statewide, nonprofit organization that focuses on helping communities improve in areas of finance, quality of life, civic engagement and social engagement.

Kent Spellman, executive director for The Hub, said The Hub and representatives of its funders, Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, selected the towns from among other communities that can potentially be impacted by the presence of the Summit.

“We’re working with these six communities to develop plans for strengthening their communities,” said Spellman. “Part of that plan is to assess what they have to work with in their communities.

“Part is to work with broader community, to engage them in determining broader aspirations for the community, and we work on putting together plans to go there.”

Spellman said the “team” from each town has been assigned a Blueprint Communities “coach” who will work with each team in helping to meet individual goals for each town.

He explained that many towns are interested in tourism-related economic development since tourism brings in “outside dollars.”

“They’re always looking for funding resources, that’s a given,” said Spellman. “But, for example, there may be somebody who has extensive experience at tourism marketing.

“If they have a tourism focus to their plan, they’re going to need to know how to market their community for tourism.

“Maybe their community has no brand, no logo to represent the community,” he said. “So we can connect them to someone who helps them develop a logo.”

The team from Sophia was focused on developing stronger tourism-based industry in order to bring people into the town and to get them to purchase from local businesses.

A “tire train” — a tourism locomotive — has been proposed for the city.

Sophia team member John Fanary, owner of the Stage Coach Salon, said his group — selected by Mayor Danny Barr — wants to build their community.

“When you build a community, you build your churches, your businesses, you build it up, you bring more people in,” he said. “It builds everything up so you can have a prosperous community with tourism and a lot of vitality.

“We are looking into the excursion/tire train, along with several other projects.”

Sophia members have planned a “weed-wacking drive” to bring Weed-eaters into Sophia to trim certain areas, Fanary said.

Blueprint Community seminar speaker Jean Ambrose of West Virginia Center for Civic Life urged teams to identify certain demographics who are not involved and to get them involved.

Fanary said he expects everyone in Sophia to be involved in the Blueprint Communities initiative to improve the town.

“We have a good group of people that like to jump in and help,” he said. “We don’t have glory takers.

“Everybody likes to pull together.”

The Hinton team is also focused on increasing the tourism trade, said Eric Pories, who is coaching the Hinton, Bluefield and Princeton teams.

“The program they’re involved in is more looking at how they may implement some things the community is really passionate about,” he said. “We have a community that struggles (to create) an economy that provides employment opportunities.

“Tourism clearly, for the southern Gateway to the New River Gorge, is a great opportunity.”

The presence of the Summit is likely to increase the town’s opportunities in meeting leaders’ tourism-related goals, said Pories.

“It’s something this community can leverage.”

Spellman said he reminds teams that their aspirations must be bigger than a single project and that they should focus on setting an overall vision for their towns.

“You must also have a lot of local businesses, niche retail and turn your community into a cultural center people will want to visit,” said Spellman.

“We want to make sure the communities are always asking, ‘Why do we want this?’

“It’s about creating a culture in your community that people want to be part of.”

The Hub, through Blueprint Communities, recently assisted a Wayne County team in securing a lodge and conference center for Beech Fork State Park. The team recently was able to get legislation passed to approve a $35.5 million bond issue.

The workshop Thursday, which focused on civic engagement, is the third of five. The last Blueprint Communities workshops will be held in September and November, Spellman said.

Coaches will continue working with their teams in the upcoming months.

—  E-mail: jfarrish@register-herald.com