Chester site success breeds next effort

CHESTER – Local leaders have parlayed redevelopment of the Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery property into an opportunity to do something similar at another northern Hancock County site, this time with technical assistance from the state as part of the “Communities of Achievement” program.

“The goal here is to find another site in northern Hancock County where we can build off the momentum generated by the Taylor, Smith and Taylor project and identify a project, remediate that site if necessary and prepare it for future economic development,” said Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle. “It’s not supposed to be directly related to Taylor, Smith and Taylor, but a requirement of the program is that you have to identify a project in the vicinity of a recent successful project.”

“Communities of Achievement” is a West Virginia Community Development HUB program. The designation, awarded to Chester, means a 10-member steering committee will get whatever technical assistance it needs to identify workable projects in northern Hancock County as well as whatever specialized coaching is needed to complete one of them.

The committee members, known as community collaborators, attend outcome-based workshops that provide the content, tools and framework they’ll need to do their job. Coaches assigned to each team will oversee the process from beginning to end, ensuring they stay on task and connecting them with the resources and technical assistance they need.

The program is funded by a USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Partnership to Promote Community Well Being, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the West Virginia Office of Healthy Lifestyles and the participating communities. One Economy Corporation, WVU Extension, and the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection also provide in-kind contributions.

HUB Executive Director Kent Spellman said it’s a 16-18 month process.

“We provide them with training, we provide them with some funding,” Spellman said. “But most importantly, we provide each team with a performance coach – a professional who helps the team stay on track, makes sure they’re focused and accountable to one another and their community, and helps the team achieve the success that communities so often fail to achieve.”

Spellman said one of their earliest projects, in Wayne County, resulted in a bond issue that funded construction of a $35 million lodge and conference center.

“That was a huge victory,” he said. “But we do see very good returns on investment in most of the communities we work in. The idea is that when they come away from HUBcap they’ll have tools they can use not just to complete the project they’re working on, but to do other community improvement projects.”

Ford said to be eligible for the program, the community first had to show demonstrable success with a project on its own – in this case, demolition of the old pottery and preparations for job and business development there.

The committee has to start its work with an open mind, he said, using what they learn at the workshops to determine what opportunity they should focus on. Projects may involve cleaning up and reusing old industrial properties, or they could involve a previously undeveloped property.

Listed as objectives in the community’s application for HUBcap status: Choosing a brownfield property and redeveloping it in a way that makes sense for Chester and all of northern Hancock County, be it through establishing green spaces or designating industrial, office or retail uses; create jobs; and identify funding sources for acquisition and site preparation.

“It’s up to that committee of 10 to identify a project,” he said. “They’re with us, step by step, the entire 19 months. And the skillsets, the technical capacity they add to our group will help us identify a site and a project to tackle.”

The BDC sponsored the community’s application for HUBcap participation and provided $2,500 in seed money for the project.

Serving as community collaborators will be Ford; John Brown, executive director of Brooke-Hancock Planning and Development Council and the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission; Catherine Ferrari, president and CEO of Hancock County Savings Bank; Hancock County Commissioner Jeff Davis; Chester City Councilman Mike Dotson, a founding member of Rock Spring River Redevelopment Committee and manager of Chester’s municipal/business building; Sandra Parkins, city clerk and local business owner; Billy Greathouse, Century 21 Greathouse Realty and a founding member of Rock Spring River Redevelopment Committee; Carol Farish, a community volunteer; Bob Reed, a private developer and member of the BDC board of directors; and Marvin Six, local businessman and founding member of Rock Spring River Redevelopment Commission.

Over the course of the next month they’ll be meeting with their coach to review goals and the composition of the team as well as prepare for their first workshop, set for Oct. 1-2.