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'Catalytic innovation' welcome in W.Va.

Caitlin Cook
Glenville State College president, Peter Barr, spoke to a Create West Virginia breakout session on utilizing Gilmer County's existing assets to move forward while infusing innovation.

RICHWOOD, W.Va. -- For Thomas Frey, keynote speaker at the Create West Virginia conference, every problem creates an opportunity. The future is ours to create, he said.

Frey is just one of many speakers at the Create West Virginia conference focused on generating innovative ideas to provide communities with a sustainable economy.

"All industries end," Frey said. "They get replaced by something else."

The conference, in Richwood, runs Thursday through Saturday. 

More than 100 people gathered into Richwood High School's auditorium to hear Frey talk about areas of "catalytic innovation" that would create new industries in places where people have the will, drive and capacity to embrace the challenge.

Catalytic innovations such as electricity, automobiles and planes created thousands of jobs across the world.  New innovations will do the same, Frey said.

"It's the convergence of digital and physical," Frey said.

With these evolving industries, such as programming, big data, 3D printing, atmospheric water harvesting, commercial drones, driverless cars, micro colleges and business colonies, Frey said the key is human capital and not geographic location.

"This is not science fiction even if it sounds like it is," Frey said. "Individuals can do this separately. You don't have to work together."

Richwood's mayor, Robert Johnson, is open to ideas to move his town forward.

"It's simply impossible to generate economic stability by one's self and we need ideas from everywhere," Johnson said. "I think a whole lot of minds are better than a small handful."

Johnson added that he has the same operating budget he enjoyed while mayor in 1988.

He's hopeful the Create West Virginia event will leave a lasting impact on the community.

Frey talked about a person's ability to work for a company and live anywhere.  Communities have to give people a reason to stay, he said.

Bruce Breuninger, originally from Florida, came to Richwood eight years ago for a Rainbow conference on generating new ideas. From the people he met and ideas shared, Breuninger, 66, decided to move and call Richwood home.

Since his move he's seen a lot of refurbishing of the old and replacing it with new.

"You have to roll up your sleeves and get in there and work to make it happen," Breuninger said. "We have faith and hope for our community as people come into [the community] and see how beautiful it is."

Rebecca Kimmons, conference director, said it's going to take a visionary leader to transform towns like Richwood back into vibrant communities with lucrative and sustainable economies.

"If we could just find that brilliant visionary who loves trout finishing and mountain biking, that person would come here and look at these very quant buildings and say, 'Ah, I'm home.'"

Breuninger said it's a good thing for people to be in Richwood fired up about creating new ideas and work environments.

"[Frey] has inspired me so far and I'm anxious to see other speakers," Breuninger said.

How does Richwood or any West Virginia community move forward and become a leader in innovation?

"They need to be as connected as possible," Frey said. "You can't do it in isolation."

It requires education, training, developing forward thinkers, motivated people and political will. All these things combine to create these new opportunities, Frey said.

"It's the drive and determination of the community."

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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