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Area Alliance plans for future at annual celebration

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."

Hunt thought back to when she worked in the Charleston area.

"The majority of the things we look at and take for granted as the fiber of this community wasn't here 20 years ago," Hunt said. "So how did it get here? It got here because people thought about what they wanted their future to be like and they did it."

It's about getting the people in the mindset of wanting a riverfront park, community gardens or a farmer's market on the West Side, Hunt said.

"We sometimes discount the future because there is so much work to be done right now but if you never know where you are wanting to go how are you going to get there?"

The Alliance previously worked with Westphal when developing its 2030 Vision plan. Ballard said he wanted the community to hear from Westphal.

The Alliance has already implemented some programs within its 2030 Vision plan that derived from Westphal's futurist guidance.

The Alliance's Sustainable Agriculture Entrepreneurs (SAGE) program emphasizes the importance of what some people may consider older industries in the future, Ballard said. SAGE, which is in its second year, helps train local farmers to provide area businesses with fresh produce. The goal is to help meet the future food supply needs while providing jobs and keeping money local.

The Alliance also offers a network support system for entrepreneurs called <co acronym stands as is >GROW. Ballard said this program is aimed at helping to connect ideas and mentors in the business community. Participants can consult with a UC business professor and a graduate student in the business school for guidance.

Ballard likens the program to a six-month entrepreneurial boot camp. Participants also have an area in the Alliance's building to work out of and hold meetings.

To help meet future energy challenges, the Alliance launched its E4 program on Charleston's East End. The program encourages households to track how much power they use. It also encourages participants to switch to more efficient forms of power.

"It's hard to plan for the future if you don't know the global trends," Ballard said.

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

 


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