Developing A Local Food System In The Greenbrier River Valley
Lewisburg, WV – As the lead economic development agency for Pocahontas, Greenbrier and Monroe Counties, the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation is always looking for ways to bring new business opportunities to the Greenbrier River valley. Now they’re turning those energies towards creating a food system focused on local producers and processors.
Leading the corporation in this endeavor is Jim Cooper, a expert recently retired after a long career with the USDA. He spoke at a recent meeting of the GVEDC Board of Directors. Cooper says West Virginians spend around 7 billion dollars on food annually. They spend another 7 billion on energy. He says looking at those factors from a regional economic viewpoint, it makes great sense to try to capture some of that economic activity.
Cooper says funding to get the project going will come from USDA Rural Development Grant. He’d like for the GVEDC to partner with Downstream Strategies to help develop the grant.
“[They will] help us determine what’s the retail potential of that seven billion dollars spent state wide” says Cooper. “What’s the economic activity in this region and then more importantly, look at ways to capture that.”
“If we’re looking at food and energy, how do you capture that locally and what’s the potential – then how to rebuild strategies that will fill in the gap between the market potential and the market actual.”
Downstream is already familiar with Pocahontas County having worked with both the Elk Headwaters Watershed Association and the county Water Resources Task Force. They would review existing literature, and facilitate public meetings to develop a common vision for meeting local food and biomass demand from within the Greenbrier Valley. Their proposed budget for all this work is $42,000.
Cooper says the GVEDC should also consider working with the Natural Capital Investment Fund. The NCIF is a non-profit business loan fund that provides debt and equity financing to small businesses in North Carolina, Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and West Virginia. The GVEDC would provide a $25,000.00 match, office space and around $2000.00 for travel expenses incurred by Vista Volunteers. There would be a Vista volunteer in each of the three counties, and possibly a fourth one at the GVEDC office.
The USDA Rural Development grant is due by June 28th. The board will hold a special meeting on June 23rd to give final approval on the grant application.
In other business, the Board of Directors approved the slate of officers as presented by the nominating committee. They are President – Robin Mutscheller, 1st VP – Karen Lobban, 2nd VP – Billy Wickline, Treasurer – JD Morgan, and Secretary – Jacob Martin.
GVEDC Exec Director Stephen Weir says that a financial task force has been established to look more closely at the Edray Industrial park. Among the options being considered : an offer to sell the park and 30 acres of land to the West Virginia Division of Highways, seek a commitment from the US Army Corps of Engineers to lease the building, or identify and contact other local entrepreneurs such as Beckwith Lumber to determine the level of interest in the site.