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Meet Awesome Entrepreneurs in Advantage Valley, WV

Some of the best in the biz call the Advantage Valley area home.

By Livability on December 2, 2020

Courtesy of Patrick Guthrie

We sat down with three Advantage Valley residents to learn what sets the area apart from others and creates career opportunities. 

Brian Blauser

Q&A with Larry Groce

Host & Artistic Director of Mountain Stage 

Larry Groce is the longtime host and artistic director of Mountain Stage, a two-hour music radio show that has been held regularly in Charleston since 1983 and is broadcasted nationally on 240 radio stations by NPR. He also is the former executive director of FestivALL Charleston, an annual two-weeklong, multi-arts event.

Q: What is the arts-and-entertainment scene like in Advantage Valley?

A: We have an abundance of arts in this area. We have a symphony, a very good art museum and performing arts center, a big civic center, live performance theater companies, a couple of ballets, clubs that feature live music of various kinds, and several festivals. For a place of our size, we have a lot.

Q: How does this improve livability?

A: These types of performances and exhibitions are what bring a community alive. You have to have a job and a place to live but once you’re there, what are you going to do? There are great opportunities to do things like that here. And it’s very accessible. It’s inexpensive and you don’t have to wait in long lines. A bigger place might have more offerings, but it would be much more expensive and often difficult to access. Here, it’s very pleasant and family-friendly.

Q: The Mountain Stage radio show that you host is in its 37th year. Why the enduring appeal?

A: It’s just a great variety of musical styles from around the world. We have old-time Appalachian bands, African bands, indie-rock bands. And the format allows you to have a sample of everything in one show, because nobody other than certain headliners is on for more than about 15 minutes.

Q: You also have worked closely with FestivALL Charleston over the years. What is that event?

A: FesitvALL takes place all over town, in our venues and in the streets. We try to do all sorts of different kinds of arts. There’s a lot of music, of course, but there’s also theater, dance pieces, artist exhibitions, poetry readings. We have as much as we can possibly pack in during that period of time. The theme is “A City Becomes a Work of Art.” That’s really the goal of FestivALL, to make Charleston itself a work of art.

Pull Quote Option: “For a place of our size, we have a lot.”

– Cary Estes

Courtesy GWV

Q&A with Natalie Roper

Executive Director of GWV

Advantage Valley’s innovative training program is creating an army of software code developers working on solutions to real-world challenges. The NewForce program trains people with no prior coding experience, prepares them for their first tech job and connects them with entry-level software development opportunities in West Virginia. The tuition-free, intensive six-month program is held at Mountwest Community & Technical College in Huntington with around 15 students in every cohort who train Monday through Friday.

Generation West Virginia (GWV), Mountwest and Nashville Software School (NSS), a Tennessee-based nonprofit vocational school that prepares adults for software development careers, partner on the NewForce initiative.

Natalie Roper is executive director of GWV, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing young people in the Mountain State.

Q: Why such a focus on software development and coding?

A: Software development is one of the top careers in West Virginia, but there is a large lack of trained people to fill tech company positions. To enroll in the NewForce program, no prior experience in tech or software development is required.

Q: Do you help NewForce graduates find jobs?

A: Yes. We’ve already had quite a few success stories, with grads going to work for companies such as IBM, Core10, Advantage Technology, Mountain Leverage and the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office.

Q: People from all kinds of backgrounds are welcome to apply for the program, right?

A: Yes, we’ve had people from retail, the service industry, painters, veterans, etc. It’s a great career pathway for West Virginians who want to learn technology and be problem solvers.

Q: What should prospective employers know about the program? 

A: I should point out that there are also incentives for companies that hire NewForce software development and coding graduates. It’s a really excellent program. More info and applications can be found at newforce.co.

Possible Headline: Tuition-free program creates a roster of code developers in Advantage Valley, WV

– Kevin Litwin

Courtesy of Patrick Guthrie

Q&A with Patrick Guthrie

Restaurant Owner

Patrick Guthrie knows a thing or three about food and drink in Advantage Valley. Guthrie owns restaurants Black Sheep Burritos and Brews in Charleston and Huntington, Bad Shepherd Beer Company in Charleston and Bahnhof WVrsthaus + Biergarten, a German restaurant and live music venue he and partner Jess Bright opened in Huntington in 2016.

Q: What made you want to settle in Advantage Valley?

A: I spent about 16 years in Germany and moved back to Huntington, where I ended up going back to school. When I finished college, I helped my father out with a nightclub/live music venue. We had an opportunity to open Black Sheep in 2011 and from there, we had pretty good exposure and support from the community, and we had the opportunity to open another Black Sheep in Charleston. A couple of years after that, we were offered the brewery next door that was already in operation. We took over and changed the name – that was in 2016 – and after that, we opened Bahnhof.

Q: What are the positives of opening a business in Advantage Valley?

A: One thing that I have found in this area is that you have better opportunities to get more stable rent and buildings that become available versus in bigger cities where a lot of developers drive up rent and leases. Here, the buildings have been rehabbed and secured in a way that’s cost-effective. Your money goes a lot farther here as far as being able to buy property and operate. There’s another craft brewery that’s really helped get everybody together in a craft brew festival; there are breweries in each community, there’s more tourism, so it’s been a snowball effect.

Q: How has opening up shop in Advantage Valley affected the community?

A: It was kind of a springboard with our restaurant. A lot of people thought we were crazy for doing what we did, being forward with craft beer in 2007. They told us, “You’ll never make it if you don’t have Bud Light on tap,” and we kind of proved them wrong with that early on. Other entrepreneurs took notice, and our success became a springboard to encourage other places to open up. I’ve seen other people have confidence in opening their businesses and in finding success.

Q: What does Advantage Valley offer for quality of life?

A: We’re seeing a lot of growth in this area. A lot of newer houses are being built, the school system is really good and things are coming to life with arts and music. There’s a lot of great recreation nearby, with whitewater rafting, really nice parks and ziplining. The city spaces are really well kept.

Pull Quote Option: “Your money goes a lot farther here.”

– Rebecca Treon

If you’d like to learn more about the Advantage Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, WV.

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