Business leaders to convene at annual economic summit

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Oct. 8—FAIRMONT — Final details are being put into place for the annual North Central West Virginia Business Summit and Economic Outlook, scheduled for Oct. 26 at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center.

In this day-long event, representatives from four area chambers — Marion, Monongalia, Harrison and Preston — will gather to learn about business initiatives and economic projections for the state.

The summit now also includes an economic outlook presentation by John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research and associate professor of economics at West Virginia University.

Deskins is known by West Virginia policymakers as a trusted source for accurate economic data, as well as macroeconomic forecasting. In the weeks leading up to the summit, Deskins can usually be found examining and reexamining figures as they relate to West Virginia's economy.

"This is not a traditional gathering," Marion County Chamber of Commerce Board President Jonathan Board said. "This is real work."

By "real work," Board is referring to the amount of data that is gathered, analyzed and compiled specifically for the summit.

"The hidden gem in all of this is that right now, people are working on comprehensive, actionable information that will be breaking news," Board said. "I can tell you that it's going to be robust."

"This is a highlight every fall," Marion County Chamber of Commerce President Tina Shaw said. "Last year was virtual, but there's nothing better than in person. And we've had great response from sponsors and attendees."

"There's an energy — a desire to be together," Board said. "So our goal is to make it as safe as possible." Some of the speakers will attend virtually, and others in person.

The first scheduled topic will be infrastructure planning and funding, with a talk from Mitch Carmichael of the West Virginia Department of Economic Development.

Shaw expects to hear that economic indicators are pointing up for the state, and more specifically, the county.

"In terms of Marion County, it's very encouraging," Shaw said. "We're seeing interest from new businesses and new developments. We're being very heavily looked at. We haven't seen this kind of interest in a while, not for the past few years."

The future of post-pandemic Appalachia will be discussed by Appalachian Regional Commission Co-Chair Gayle Manchin, the first West Virginian selected for the position.

ARC provided $36 million for more than 80 COVID-19 relief projects.

"ARC is aware of the importance of supporting Appalachia in building economic resilience and adapting to the needs of individual communities during this time," Manchin said.

"We are keenly aware of the challenges North Central West Virginia has faced," Manchin said. "We also believe that communities throughout Appalachia should be able to chart their own destinies."

During the summit, Manchin will share details of the Appalachian Community Capacity Building Pilot Program.

"It's a new program we're launching next year to support community capacity building and help Appalachian communities best utilize American Rescue Plan Act funding," Manchin said.

The idea behind "community capacity building" is to help disadvantaged people learn skills to enable them to live independently, and also to participate in community development.

"I'll also be sharing the core values of ARC's new strategic plan, which emphasizes the importance of incorporating innovation, equity, sustainability and resilience into our work to help bring Appalachia to parity with the rest of the country," Manchin said.

"The more we can think regionally and work collaboratively, the more likely we are to achieve economic success in West Virginia and around Appalachia," Manchin said.

Afternoon sessions will include panelists sharing their perspectives on the silver lining of the pandemic. Panelists include Danny Twilley, assistant dean for the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative at West Virginia University; Chelsea Ruby, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism; Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, West Virginia adjutant general; and West Virginia State Auditor JB McCuskey.

The topic of redistricting will round out the afternoon's discussions, with state government officials.

Board estimates an increase in the number of attendees.

"We usually have several hundred people, maybe more. This year, it wouldn't surprise me if we broke records," he said.

Board also mentioned the strong possibility of one or more special speakers, but their names won't be released until their attendance is confirmed.

Details of the various developments will be available after the summit. To register for the summit, or for more information, go to www.morgantownpartnership.com/summit. The cost is $100 per person.

To reach Lori Riley, email lriley@timeswv.com.

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