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Posts Tagged ‘west virginia’

Photo: Jason Margolis
Solar Holler founder Dan Conant, foreground, observes a solar roof installation in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

As warehouse and distribution jobs proliferate and meet a need for lower-skilled employment, I’m beginning to accept that companies like Amazon that destroy traditional industries have some redeeming social virtues. After all, times change.

Perhaps no American workers feel the changing times more deeply than do those in the coal industry. But displaced workers who are open to new opportunities seem to be emerging from the disruption OK.

Jason Margolis provided a coal-country report for Public Radio International’s excellent 50 States series.

“Tanner Lee Swiger graduated from high school in Wayne County, West Virginia this spring,” writes Margolis. “His father and grandfather both worked in West Virginia’s coal industry. But not Swiger, or any of his high school classmates.

“Nobody from his graduating class is working in coal, says Swiger. ‘[They’re] working in fast food or not working at all.’

“Not Swiger. He has a job installing rooftop solar panels. He says his family is delighted with it. …

“Swiger is working as an apprentice with Solar Holler, which was founded four years ago by 32-year-old Dan Conant. Conant doesn’t see solar energy and coal at odds with each other.

“ ‘The way I think about it, as a West Virginian, is that West Virginia has always been an energy state, and this is just the next step. It’s the next iteration,’ says Conant. …

“He left his job at the US Department of Energy to start Solar Holler, to try to help slow his state’s economic slide. By many metrics, West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country. …

“ ‘We need to find new things,’ says Conant. ‘It’s not going to be the coal industry of the past.’ …

“Solar may be an energy of tomorrow, but … coal mining jobs in West Virginia typically pay more than twice the starting wages for solar. But those jobs are increasingly hard to find, and Solar Holler, and other solar installers, need workers now. …

“Solar Holler is partnering with a non-profit called the Coalfield Development Corporation. They own the building. Beyond solar jobs, Coalfield Development is teaching former coal workers skills like woodworking and farming.

‘Apprentices with Coalfield Development work 33 hours, spend six hours a week at a community college, and three hours engaged in ‘life-skills mentorship.’ Nearly 90 people have entered the program. ”

More at “50 States: America’s place in a shrinking world,” here, where you can listen to the story or read it.

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The Nonprofit Quarterly recently published a short piece about how artisans are playing a critical role in West Virginia’s economic development strategy.

Ruth McCambridge reported, “In West Virginia, a state rich in artisans including fashion designers, leatherworkers, and furniture makers, the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts offers business help meant to bring that local work to a more national market.

“ ‘We get artists’ work into major markets outside the state,’ CEO Alissa Novolselick said. ‘We help them get in front of power buyers, big art institutions or really high volume galleries, or different sorts of market opportunities.’

“Success in this larger arena is completely possible, she says, pointing to Blenko Glass and Fiestaware as West Virginia–based businesses with a ‘hugely diversified portfolio.’ She calls this part of a strength-based community economic development strategy, rather than just support for artists: ‘We really believe that art as economic development can be part of the total answer to working on a more diversified economy for West Virginia.’ …

“Art can create more than a visual; it can create a place. And the richness goes both ways, says Novoselick, who contends that the rural nature of the settings of many of these centers of arts development informs the art. …

“A recent study of five hundred West Virginia art entrepreneurs found that they felt the low cost of living and doing business in the state helps lower the risk of what would otherwise be a chancy endeavor.” More here.

When I was working at the magazine, we had articles from a number of New England states about their version of a “creative economy.” The perennial worry, of course, is that once the artists have done their job and brought tourists and business to an area, they may be unable to pay the inevitable higher rents. Forward-looking locales explore ways to protect artists for the long term.

Photo: MountainMade WV Handmade Art
Blenko Glass

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