The Times West Virginian

September 1, 2013

Create West Virginia encouraging, helping communities to build in innovative ways

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Create West Virginia is encouraging and helping communities to build their futures in innovative ways.

A lot of small working groups were created under Vision Shared, a nonprofit community and economic development organization officially formed in 2000. One of those groups was investigating principals of creative economies, and Create West Virginia — established in June 2007 — grew out of that effort.

Rebecca Kimmons, a partner at Katalyst Development Strategies and communications director of West Virginia GreenWorks, both in Charleston, has been involved in Create West Virginia since it was started. She is serving as director of this year’s Create West Virginia Conference, which is focused on the future.

The vision of this nonprofit grassroots organization is to develop a state “that is creative, confident, diverse, technologically advanced and able to compete among the most innovative, dynamic, prosperous, and creative communities in the world.”

Its mission is focused on supporting “the development of creative communities, companies and centers of learning that thrive in the global innovation economy,” according to information from Create West Virginia.

The organization offers conferences, workshops and other events to teach local leaders about innovative economy principals and how these ideas can become part of plans to grow their communities.

Create West Virginia also leads projects related to commercial and social entrepreneurship and works with businesses.

The five pillars of the creative economy are diversity, entrepreneurship, education, quality of place and technology. All of these concepts are necessary in order to have a healthy, vibrant, innovation economy, Kimmons said.

“I think it’s so important to encourage West Virginians’ native inventiveness,” she said. “I know how incredibly inventive we are in our own lives.”

However, people in the state often don’t translate that creativity to businesses, and they are conditioned to wait for a job, she said. This helps explain why West Virginia has a low rate of business startups.

In this new world economy, Create West Virginia is encouraging citizens to reinvent themselves and not just wait for someone else to save them. West Virginians are just as smart as people anywhere else in the country, Kimmons said.

“Create West Virginia really doesn’t take any credit for starting anything really,” she said. “What we’ve done is create a conversation and start talking about these innovation economy principals.”

Kimmons said this work and energy has led to some amazing, tangible results in several places around the state.

For instance, groups of volunteers like Create Huntington, Create Fayetteville and Create Buckhannon are establishing movements that incorporate these ideas into their community’s long-range plans and concentrate on collaboration, rehabilitation and energy. In addition, a group from Princeton called the RiffRaff Arts Collective has been involved in economic development through the arts, she said.

“They have been busy making these principals real of creative economy,” Kimmons said. “We’re seeing a remarkable difference. We hope that we are a part of expanding that and augmenting that.”

Also, a collaborative effort between Create West Virginia and West Virginia State University has led to the development of the state’s first community co-working space, called DigiSo, she said. This digital and social media incubator is headquartered in Charleston.

Another successful Create West Virginia initiative was the Block Project, which connected children in Rand with kids from Harlem, N.Y., via the Internet with Skype and other programs, Kimmons said.

In the past, Create West Virginia has taken its annual training and education conference to places like Stonewall Resort near Weston, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Huntington, Wheeling and Charleston. The event has drawn as many as 400 people in the past.

When looking for a location for the sixth annual event, Kimmons contacted seven West Virginia towns that she knew were distressed. Mayor Robert Johnson of Richwood in Nicholas County was very interested and urged Create West Virginia to come to his city.

Conference attendees will gather in Richwood from Thursday, Oct. 24, through Saturday, Oct. 26. Kimmons said this is the most ambitious conference that Create West Virginia has ever planned because they are going to a place that has no real conference facilities, which presents a creative challenge.

“But I knew it could be done, and I knew it should be done,” she said.

Keynote speeches will take place in the auditorium of Richwood High School, which will be renamed “Create School” for the duration of the conference.

“The keynotes have been very carefully chosen to speak to different aspects/challenges in West Virginia,” Kimmons said.

Five speakers will offer their insights during the conference.

Dr. Thomas Frey, founder, executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute, will talk about “Creating a Remarkable Future,” and Thomas Worlledge, an architect who is accredited in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, will give a presentation titled “Don’t Touch that Town — Yet.”

Dr. Gregory Bowman, associate dean of academic affairs at the West Virginia University College of Law, will speak on “Going Global: A West Virginian’s Journey from Local to Global (and Back),” and a session called “Get a Job, or Make a Job?” will be delivered by Dr. Naomi Stanford, an organization design and development consultant, teacher and author. Jon Gensler, a consultant with Cambridge Leadership Associates in New York City, will address “Reprogramming Appalachia through Changing the Approach to Leadership.”

For the breakout sessions, people will walk no more than five minutes to different nearby locations.

“That way we get to involve the town in a very intimate way,” Kimmons said.

The sessions will focus on topics like how a city can package and sell what it offers; how places earn the “coolest town” designations; how filmmakers and writers present West Virginia and why; and collaborative efforts between towns. Also, a panel of leaders from West Virginia’s energy sector will talk about the future of coal, natural gas, water and solar in the state.

Kimmons explained that the buildings that make up Richwood’s old commercial district are mostly empty, and Tamarack artists and other entrepreneurs and retail businesses are working to fill those spaces during the conference.

Members of the public, whether they come to the event or not, are invited to check out the merchandise and the food that is available. A farmers’ market will also be part of the festivities.

Each day, the company Adventures on the Gorge will transport the participants from their hotels in Summersville to Richwood, and Kimmons promised an interesting and entertaining 30-minute commute.

“What is wonderful about this is it’s doing exactly what I hoped it would do, which is get everybody’s improvisational skills going,” she said.

The conference will give people an idea of what a community of the future might look like, and is highlighting opportunities that exist and issues that need remedied for the success of communities.

“It’s like a huge demonstration project” Kimmons said. “Yes, it’ll be over by Sunday, Oct. 27, but the energy and the imagination and the can-do spirit will just be starting.

“I think it’s going to be an experience they won’t forget.”

To find out about the conference cost or to register, visit Create West Virginia is also looking for sponsors. Companies that are interested in being a part of this movement can call Kimmons at 304-205-5287.

“We need progressive businesses who understand how cultivating a creative economy in West Virginia is going to help our economy grow,” she said.

In addition, Create West Virginia has developed new ways of raising funds.

People can go to, started by Scott Depot businessman Shane Richardson, to support Create West Virginia’s campaign to build a trellis-mounted solar energy system in Richwood, and also to contribute to other West Virginia enterprises. The organization is using the website to raise money for the conference and Richwood, too.

Email Jessica Borders at or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.