PROMOTING QUALITY OF LIFE ENHANCEMENT
Click to View full PDF, or print, the MCDA Strategic Plan ("Vision")
Economic development is only one side of the development picture. Community development is equally as important. Not only must places develop in a way that they are conducive to economic investment, they must also be places where people want to visit, live, work, play, and make investments.
In other words, economic development activities must also consider the well-being of the community members. Development that benefits only a few private interests and not the community at large can be problematic. As such, emphasis should be placed on the creation of quality jobs rather than solely on the quantity (number) of jobs created. Working to create jobs which provide people an opportunity to build a better future for themselves and their families – and thus be a benefit to the community – is highly desirable. Conversely, working to create jobs that ensnare persons into the trap of being “working but poor” – and as a result a drain on community resources – is to be avoided.
Likewise, investment needs to be made into facets of the community that will help to attract both workers and investors – just like efforts are made to attract business and industry. Increasingly, individuals whose professions revolve around utilizing information and channeling creativity are able to work where they want to live (rather than living near where they work). The members of this “Creative Class” (a term coined by social scientist and economist Richard Florida) seek amenities, much in the same way a business seeks access to markets. These individuals generally create their own businesses and/or telecommute. Their presence in a community can then result in the need for specialized services and spin-off businesses to serve their needs. As a result, local economic conditions improve because the community had improved itself and what it had to offer to potential residents and investors.
For the Mineral County Development Authority, this means focusing on the values of education, place-making, and livability. The presence of a college in the county seat provides the county with cultural, entertainment, recreation, and educational opportunities that would normally not be found in a place like Mineral County. Likewise, the presence of various entities involved in workforce development (including the college) provides the county with the opportunity to have people educated and trained for whatever the needs of employers might be, giving it an advantage over other places.
Complementary to this, the county needs places that people can be proud to call “home,” activities and locations for spending “leisure” time, and jobs that afford people the opportunity to have a life outside of working. The county already has some of these neighborhoods, some of these recreational spots, and some of these work places, but it could always use more.
To that end, there are several goal areas for the Mineral County Development Authority.
Connect Educational Efforts and Development: The proportion of adult county residents with four-year college degrees is about half what is found nationally. That makes it difficult to attract technology-based businesses. It also limits the earning power of those who have less formal education –the median income for a person with just a high school diploma is about 60 percent of that of someone with a college degree. Having WVU Potomac State College as a resource though can help change this. Programs on the importance of continued education to high school students and their parents need to be continued and expanded – and need to emphasize that complete four-year degree programs are increasingly being made available at the college.
Still, college is not for everyone but everyone still needs to be able to be productive. The Mineral County Board of Education and Potomac State College worked together to keep a branch of the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) in the county. As a result, the institute is available to provide technical-based job training in the county, particularly in the “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and medical-related fields. This will also be useful for individuals needing to be re-trained because changing work situations require them to have different skills. Thus, the technical training needs to be set up to provide the best workforce development opportunities to potential (and current) workers in high-demand fields. Together, these actions can make the county a better place as they could result in not only a higher level of educational attainment, but increased economic activity and earning potential as well. Work on these tasks should begin immediately and be undertaken continuously because there will always be new potential college students and people needing training.
Promote Presence of Potomac State College: Mineral County needs to derive greater benefits not directly tied to the provision of education from WVU Potomac State College. Institutions of higher education offer plays, concerts, speakers, and sports ostensibly for students but almost always available to the greater community. Having larger audiences for these events will be beneficial to the performers and provide additional revenue for college programming (for events with admission charges). Increasing interest among those outside the college community may even help promote better “town-gown” relations.
More importantly, from a development standpoint, these activities can make Mineral County a much better destination location and a much more interesting place to those seeking intellectual stimulation (i.e., the “Creative Class”). But people have to know about the events to be able to attend them. Thus, increased promotion, focusing on the broader county community and not just the campus needs to occur. This work would have to be done by (or at least in conjunction with) Potomac State College. Planning work for this could begin now, with an official “kickoff” in a few months with the start of the Fall 2014 semester. It would need to be done continually and periodically after that with specific planning and publicity deadlines for each semester, season, or special event.
Make Desirable Places to Live: The “2011 Mineral County Comprehensive Plan” opens the section on community design by stating that it is important how a community appears, how it presents itself, and how it conveys a sense of place and goes on to discuss their importance for the county. The plan also raised housing issues with respect to slope, soils, and septic system drainage. The plan recommended clustered housing and encouraged infill development. In the unincorporated areas of the county, subdivision regulations direct how land is developed and required permits ensure construction does not occur in the flood plain. However, there are no rules regarding what type of development can go where and to what standards it has to be built. In this setting, the county finds itself with deficiencies in two types of housing – attractive family neighborhoods and retirement locations.
Given the limited regulations that exist related to building and construction, market forces rather than direct government action will be the main impetuous to improve the situation. The roles for the development authority will be that of serving as a catalyst to make development happen. It can accomplish this by bringing top-notch developers into situations where there is demand for new housing as well as by providing descriptions of the housing needed. It can connect land owners and potential home buyers with these developers. It can work with agencies and organizations that serve seniors to more fully detail their needs – and then link them with potential developers. And it can encourage the county to create guidelines (standards) for housing construction to ensure developments are of high quality to be and remain attractive. Work on these tasks should begin in the next 24 to 36 months. It is a long-term project and as thus should be undertaken with care so it will not need to be revisited for some time.
Enhance Recreation: Mineral County operates from a position of strength with respect to recreation. Unlike many counties, it operates a parks and recreation department. It has natural beauty, nearby mountains, and Jennings Randolph Lake. There are a multitude of public and private recreation facilities, such as parks, campgrounds, wildlife areas, hunting grounds, fishing spots, hiking trails, ball fields, and assorted play areas. There are historic sites and landmarks as well as special geological and scenic locations. There are numerous festivals and fairs which draw residents and visitors to the community.
However, underutilization (particularly of the lake) and lack of coordination have limited the effectiveness of these plentiful and wide-ranging recreation opportunities. Finding a way to increase the visibility and utilization of these assets is important; it makes life better for current residents and makes the county more attractive to visitors and potential residents. Cataloging facilities, updating scheduling, and expanding publicity are areas where work should be undertaken. Mineral County Parks and Recreation and the Mineral County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau would be the lead agencies for this undertaking. The development authority would be the convener to start this process and a coordinator throughout. Work on these tasks should begin in the next 24 to 36 months. It is a long-term project and as thus should be undertaken with care so it will not need to be revisited for some time.
Stress Need for Jobs to Pay Sufficiently: Low pay and poverty issues abound in Mineral County. The average weekly wage for private sector employment was almost 10 percent lower than the state average and nearly 30 percent lower than the national average. Likewise, the median household income and per capita money income are lower. The county’s poverty rate is not as high as the state but it is still worse than the national rate. Another way to look at the situation is that the MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates show the typical expenses of a family of four are over $5,000 more than the total amount that would be earned by each adult working full-time and earning the current minimum wage (and this estimate does not include any child care expenses).
While legislative action increasing the state minimum wage helps, it is not a solution. Rather, the county needs more jobs that pay people enough so that they have money not only for the necessities of today but some to set aside for the niceties of tomorrow as well. What this will entail is that attention be given to the quality of the job – and not just the quantity of jobs – as part of the development process. Work on this matter is going to be long-term and continuous as attitudes will have to be changed as recruitment, retention, and all facets of economic development are considered in this different context.