Development in the southern coal fields has often run into issues of trust and sustainability. For the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, business development in Nicholas, Summers, Raleigh and Fayette Counties began with relationship building.
Jenna Grayson was recently named the Director of Business Retention and Expansion at the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. The new role positions Grayson to take economic development in the region to the next level.
Grayson’s background is in economic development and community engagement.
“I would say that getting folks to understand that there are resources available and leading the horse to water, essentially, is a real struggle at times,” Grayson said. “But once you get there, it’s so rewarding. And so getting people to understand that there are state, local and federal resources out there. And yes, they can be a little bit daunting and overwhelming.
“But that’s actually why this position is so important, because I can be there to kind of handhold, cheerlead and also take on some of that responsibility and those needs to lessen the burden on the business owner.”
Grayson says it is fair to say that people are sometimes wary of accepting state or federal resources and the people who say they have them.
“And for good reason, right. There are probably communities and businesses out there that have experienced something like that in the past that maybe didn’t pan out,” Grayson said. “At times, I do get that response.”
Grayson says with a little patience, evidence, and data she has developed many relationships across southern West Virginia.
“I haven’t run into as much of that, culturally speaking, where folks don’t feel as though they’ve earned the resources,” Grayson said. “Not to say that folks are jumping up and down, saying that they deserve [the resources].”
“I think that, at this point, there are a lot of businesses that will take anything they can get, because it has been a challenging couple years. I think one of the struggles that I do run into with businesses, especially smaller businesses, is people that say, they don’t need help, they don’t need assistance. And I’m not sure why.”
Sometimes, business owners are concerned about the cost of the resources. A free service that Grayson shares information about is with the WV Hive.
“You can do business planning, you can get marketing, HR, accounting support,” Grayson said, “there’s a whole plethora of resources that are available through the hive, and it’s a free service.”
The resources are meant to help southern West Virginia, a region that’s been hit particularly hard economically by coal’s boom and bust cycles and decline in good paying coal jobs. This project focuses on Nicholas, Summers, Raleigh and Fayette Counties.
“I would say that the need is great in all of southern West Virginia,” Grayson said. “I think these four counties just happened to be the place that I work in and we as an Economic Development Authority have identified [these counties] as a priority but with additional resources, other communities could have a similar position that could do the same.”
With new federal investments in projects to help communities diversify economically and support entrepreneurs, Grayson is eager to help current business owners get what they need to thrive in this region.
“To any business owners out there entrepreneurs, folks who are business minded or entrepreneurial minded, go for it. There is no better time than now. And, we have the resources,” Grayson said. “There are so many opportunities and they may seem daunting, but dive in and we’ll help you.”