Small-business owners and entrepreneurs in a handful of towns across the state have resources at their fingertips to help renovate and reuse historic downtown buildings, as part of a regional effort to jump-start local economic development and attract new residents and tourism.
Emily Wilson-Hauger, director of programs and partnerships for the Woodlands Development Group, a nonprofit real estate developer based in Elkins and part of the Downtown Appalachia: Revitalizing Recreational Economies program. She said rural business owners face numerous challenges.
“We have a lot of folks who maybe don’t have any credit, or they don’t have a lot of collateral,” Wilson-Hauger observed. “When they want to start a business, that’s really hindering them from accessing any capital.”
The communities of Cowen, Elkins, Franklin, Marlinton, Parsons, Petersburg, Richwood and White Sulphur Springs are all participants in the program.
Ray Moeller, economic redevelopment specialist for the Brownfields Assistance Center at West Virginia University, pointed out rural main streets often suffer from commercial withdrawal from historic centers to places near highways or strip malls on the edge of town where big-box chains are located.
He said the program can help residents access building assessment, along with cleanup and remediation resources.
“That early analysis that allows them to know whether this historic downtown building, that has maybe been vacant for a while, is viable for reuse,” Moeller explained.
Kaycie Stushek, community development Specialist for the West Virginia Community Development Hub, said she hopes individuals who want to start or expand a business in participating communities connect with them.
“This initiative also really fosters the growth and knowledge of entrepreneurs who want to take that step into doing development of a project in their community,” Stushek emphasized. “It walks hand-in-hand through the process with them of getting those buildings predevelopment ready.”