Advantage Valley puts entrepreneurs in position to thrive and the West Virginia region's loyal workforce, low costs and business resources create bountiful opportunities.
Employers can tap the more than 260,000 skilled workers in a nine-county labor shed, ready to take on in-demand jobs. If a bountiful workforce weren’t enough, ample opportunity zones, superior infrastructure and high quality of life are luring businesses into the region.
“We have a robust and loyal workforce,” says Terrell Ellis, executive director of Advantage Valley, the region’s economic development organization. “We all know that workforce is such a big issue. Our workforce training programs provide grants to companies to train their workers. In addition, we have free community and technical college education where people go to upgrade their skills. We also provide customized training.”
Advantage Valley is known for supporting businesses at all stages by offering resources like Economic Gardening, an innovative program that helps growing businesses thrive. Advantage Valley partners with the National Center for Economic Gardening on the initiative.
Advantage Valley launched Economic Gardening, intending to identify 45 regional businesses with a promising foundation for expanding their market share, customer base and team. Existing local companies create a whopping 80% of new jobs.
Over the program’s 36 hours, these businesses met with seasoned researchers who used sophisticated data to uncover their growth potential.
“Economic Gardening was a great experience for our business,” says Dickinson Gould, president and owner of Buzz Food Service and Appalachian Abattoir. “We received consolidated reports at the end of the engagement that were very helpful. Then, Advantage Valley offered us technical assistance funding that helped roll out a digital marketing plan fueled because we participated in Economic Gardening.”
Blue Ink Tech also participated in Economic Gardening and, as a result, created a more efficient prospective customer outreach strategy.
“One of the things I found most interesting about their insight was a strategy to find information about our customers,” says Mike Riegel, head of operations at Blue Ink Tech. “The program introduced us to tools that helped us understand what the industry is doing — it was a fascinating concept. We learned how we can improve online marketing and use different marketing channels to get in touch with a wider audience.”
When it comes to new entrepreneurs and startups, Advantage Valley offers many resources. For example, the Fostering Advantages for Startups & Entrepreneurial Resurgence in West Virginia (FASTER WV) supports the development and expansion of entrepreneurs in the region. FASTER WV works to turn local ideas into action by matching startups with a business coach, entrepreneurial training and access to capital through a dedicated Revolving Loan Fund.
“To date, we have facilitated the startup of 50 new businesses,” says Ellis. “Some of these are taking advantage of the new explosive growth in food and beverage production and outdoor recreation.”
One example is Clendenin Brewing Co., which has opened in the small community of Clendenin on the newly created Elk River Rail Trail. FASTER WV provided the needed capital for the brewing equipment. The owners have paired this operation with an Airbnb facility in a former bank building. Beyond capital, FASTER WV helps businesses get the information they need for successful operations.
“Our business benefited from participating in the workshops and connecting with other entrepreneurs,” says Jocelyn Sheppard, founder and president of Appalachian Botanical Co. “It was a valuable experience. I learned business basics, which was good for me being a first-time business owner… It was time well spent.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Advantage Valley region, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, West Virginia.