Part of that process, CWV’s Jeff Miller said, is to inspire members of the community to take a vested interest in what happens in their hometown, because it holds their fates as well. Doing that requires listening to all the interested parties.
“I keep coming back to listening, because that’s the greatest tool you have,” Miller said. “From the ultra-conservatives to the raving liberals, listen to them all. Involve all of them in the process.”
Then, a community must define what it is, because going against its own nature is almost doomed to fail.
Communities must examine their artistic offerings and untapped resources, historic appeal, livable situations, where people hang out at and whether it has the potential to be a pretty place.
Miller said working with the existing nature of an area makes the shift to collaborative communities and a new economy fit right with the people and best utilizes its most important and abundant resource.
A community’s greatest asset can be the strengths it already possesses.
“If you have existing strengths, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Miller said.
In order for any community to grow, its economy, quality of life and sense of place must be self-sustainable. Though state and federal grants help roll out programs, Miller said it’s the talent, vision and hard work of the people and businesses behind the initiatives that keep them going.
“The grants dry up. The gifts cease coming. Politics happen,” he said.
Maintaining momentum in the face of these challenges requires that any new economy plan to create jobs, stimulate trade, attract investment, diversify the business climate, improve property value, provide opportunities for interaction, increase civic participation, engage youth and promote a sense of ownership among residents and contributors.
Merging elements of the local environment, a growing economy and a community that cares, Miller said small communities can reach for big goals in West Virginia.