Are you aware that West Virginia lags far behind Appalachia, and the nation, in entrepreneurial and start-up activity? In fact, the Kauffman Foundation’s 2017 State Report found that WV ranked last in startup early job creation with a third as many jobs created as the leading state, and below the national rate for startup early survival. In addition, six of nine Advantage Valley counties rank behind WV counties, the Appalachian Region, and the nation in startups in 2017, according to ARC’s “Dynamism Dashboard” tool. Research in 2017 found there were few business start-up resources for this region, and of those, they did not operate collaboratively. Advantage Valley’s FASTER WV Entrepreneurship Program was developed and funded to address these problems.
West Virginia’s Advantage Valley, a nine-county region anchored by the metro areas of Charleston and Huntington, is among the hardest hit areas for decline of the coal industry, and most in need for economic diversification, entrepreneurial business start-ups, and jobs development. Until recently, Advantage Valley had no entrepreneurial capital fund focused on the region, a shortage of business coaches and technical support for start-ups and small businesses, and insufficient links between community college training programs and sector-based strategies. The FASTER WV Program was developed and funded to address these problems.
In 2018, Advantage Valley, Inc. leveraged U.S. EDA and Benedum funding to convene key WV entrepreneurial leaders to develop and deploy the “Best Market Opportunities for Business Development” report for the region. This report and a series of practical playbooks show 20 key business sectors that are ripe for entrepreneurial business and jobs development. Advantage Valley built on that effort to boost entrepreneurial startups and expansions with a program focused on target sectors of Food & Beverage Production; River & Outdoor Recreation/Tourism; Dependent Care; Healthcare; Small Manufacturing; and Construction. These sectors have proven regional high growth potential and high wage prospects.
Advantage Valley’s FASTER WV Program has made efforts to coordinate sector-based strategies and service providers across the region for entrepreneurs to better take advantage of key services, assistance, networks, best practices, and opportunities. FASTER WV has built sector-based strategies and coordination, identified gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, established common approaches among service organizations for gathering data and gauging metrics, and instituted improvements to the entrepreneurial system.
Advantage Valley, through its FASTER WV Program, has established and funded the only dedicated revolving loan fund of capital lending in the region for FASTER entrepreneurs, managed by the Wyoming County Economic Development Authority.
FASTER WV set lofty program goals of creating 50+ new and expanded businesses; creating 150+ new jobs; improving 130+ businesses; serving 330+ businesses; and making 15+ loans. After two and a half years of collaborative work with our program partners – the WV SBDC, Unlimited Future, Inc., BridgeValley Community and Technical College, and the Wyoming County Development Authority – the FASTER WV Program is proud to present the following metrics on progress to date:
- 376 FASTER WV clients/businesses have been served
- 3,291 hours of business coaching have been provided
- 1,050 participants have watched 19 sector-based webinars
- 50 new businesses have been created
- 77 businesses have been improved
- 77 jobs have been created
- $181,000 in small business loans have been funded
- $575,960 in other private investment has been leveraged
Advantage Valley has played a role in the development of the statewide entrepreneurship ecosystem since the days when just a few of us joined a monthly call years ago to discuss how to better coordinate resources. Look at the astounding growth in the entrepreneurship ecosystem over the past two years – now with monthly calls with over 100 resource professionals statewide, a robust WV Business Link online portal connecting so many to the myriad of resources available, and a first statewide e-ship conference in the books!
Advantage Valley and FASTER WV are proud to be a part of this growing and thriving ecosystem, with complimentary and coordinated efforts to improve the entrepreneur culture and success in West Virginia. Let’s keep up the good work!
Advantage Valley Inc. is a non-profit economic development marketing organization that works with the State of West Virginia, local governments, county economic development authorities, sector and business leaders, chambers of commerce, academic and training institutions, and nonprofit partners to showcase our nine-county region and strengthen the economy. Our efforts in business attraction, business retention, and entrepreneurship development are targeted to Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Mason, Putnam, and Wayne Counties.
Marjorie Cooke is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Advantage Valley, Inc., an economic development marketing organization focused on business attraction, business retention and entrepreneurship. Prior to her work in economic development, Marjorie managed the West Virginia Youth Symphony for ten years. She received her bachelor’s degree in history from Davidson College in NC and currently resides in Charleston with her husband Andy. They have two adult children and two golden retrievers.