CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Forward thinking and adapting challenges into local opportunities was the theme of the Charleston Area Alliance's annual celebration Tuesday evening at the state Culture Center.
"Tonight was about trying to get people to think that the economy of West Virginia in 10 and 20 years is not going to look like it has in the past," said Matt Ballard, president and CEO of the Charleston Area Alliance. "How do we think about what is going on around the world and adapt to that?"
Futurist and keynote speaker Deborah <co >Westphal challenged audience members to decide upon and create a future that they wanted. After Westphal's keynote, a panel comprised of leaders from education, philanthropy, innovation and business discussed how to make a desirable future a reality for the region.
"It's all beautiful in the future so long as we collaborate," said Steve Hedrick, CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Technology Research Innovation Center. "That was the message that resonated over and over. Collaboration, innovation and education and we will be just fine."
One of the biggest challenges in organizing community leaders from different sectors such as innovation, business and education, is commitment and prioritizing time for projects, Hedrick said.
He's hopeful people leave Tuesday's event with a better idea of what innovation for the future of the Kanawha Valley means.
"It's not just the next big thing," Hedrick said. "It's also about improving what we already have here."
MATRIC will look to bridge a collaborative effort starting to work with students at West Virginia State University, Marshall University and the University of Charleston. Hedrick is confident that local educators are doing their part to prepare the future STEM workforce, but he wants to reach out early.
"Innovation will help everyone get better," Hedrick said.
It's important to remember that thinking about the future is OK, Mary Hunt said.
Hunt serves as a senior program officer for the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. From the keynote and panel discussions, Hunt hopes that people wake up tomorrow thinking about how they can shape their futures today.
"This community is capable," Hunt said. "The challenge is not in the stuff that you do but in the thinking [about] the endless list of possibilities that we could do."