WEIRTON - Federal and state development specialists were in Weirton Wednesday to help local leaders understand the resources that are in place to assist them with their community development projects.
The Community and Economic Development Resource Roundtable, held in the West Virginia room at Millsop Community Center, covered the range of resources and services available through the USDA's Rural Development program, West Virginia Appalachian Regional Commission, Main Street West Virginia/On-Trac, and West Virginia's Community Development program.
Kent Spellman, executive director of West Virginia Community Development Hub, told the crowd that community development "doesn't happen fast."
ASSISTING COMMUNITIES — Lisa Sharp, left, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program, talked about programs and resources that could assist Northern Panhandle leaders with community and economic development initiatives during a resource roundtable held Wednesday at Millsop Community Center in Weirton. Looking on is Dave Lieving, manager of business retention and expansion efforts in the Northern Panhandle for the West Virginia Development Office.
-- Linda Harris
"It's a long, slow process," he said. "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon ... and the way to get started is to just do it."
Spellman said the most successful efforts come through collaboration, adding that it's important to start with a frank assessment of a community's assets as well as its aspirations.
"Stay with your plan, work your plan," he said. "And when you get something done, look at how you can do it better, how you can improve things ... and start the process again."
"When it's done well, it's a spiral," Spellman added. "It starts small with just a few people, and when it's done well, (more and more) get involved."
The West Virginia Development Office's Dave Lieving, manager of business retention and expansion in the Northern Panhandle counties, said the evening's goal was "to try and get information out to everyone in the community about all the programs available through the different agencies, different organizations, to focus community development."
"Everybody has a pretty strong sense of place here in West Virginia, so it just makes a lot of sense," he said. "Most of us really feel strongly about improving the community they live in, making it a better place."
Lieving said it can be hard to navigate through federal and state agencies, especially when it's done by phone. The roundtable allowed community leaders to put faces to names, "exchanging cards and contact information" with representatives of the various federal and state agencies.
That kind of face-to-face history can be invaluable down the road, he said.
"A lot of work goes into making (community development projects) come to fruition," he added. "A lot of the work, the groundwork, is done before (projects) are ever announced."
The roundtable was sponsored by the West Virginia Development Office, Brooke County Economic Development Authority, Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Brooke County Planning Commission
The BCEDA's Norm Schwertfeger said the Northern Panhandle sometimes feels a disconnect with state government, so the roundtable was an opportunity "to bring a lot of community resources up here, both state and federal."
Schwertfeger, with the Brooke County Extension office, credited Lieving with making it happen, saying he'd attended another of the roundtables "and caught our vision. He became vested in what we're trying to do."
He said the crowd included the mayors of Bethany and Beech Bottom, as well as Weirton, along with state delegates, county commissioners and City Council members.
Weirton Mayor George Kondik delivered the welcoming address.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)