The Brad and Alys Smith collaboration for outdoor economic development continues to gain momentum a year after the couple’s transformational $25 million gift to West Virginia University. The office of the same name that the Smiths created is beginning to see momentum from a concept the Smiths instilled in the team – the flywheel effect where constant effort builds up until forward motion is second nature.
Brad D. and Alys Smith’s gift to advance the state’s economy by cultivating talent, developing world-class recreational infrastructure, supporting community development around the state, and expanding employment opportunities. outdoor education is the focus of this effect.
“The combination of these efforts will create a flywheel effect that can redefine West Virginia as one of the best states to live, work and play — especially for those who love the outdoors,” said Brad D. Smith. “Working collaboratively with leaders across the state will spread this momentum to all 55 counties of West Virginia. With this flying effect, we will continue to see the success of these efforts five, 10, 20 years from now and beyond.
The Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative is laying the foundation for unique strategic initiatives and partnerships across the state that will long-term benefit a robust outdoor economy by retaining state talent and attracting new ones. residents to call Mountain State home.
Talent attraction and retention
The path to instilling this flywheel effect saw the collaboration enter into a strategic partnership with the West Virginia Department of Tourism to develop Ascend WV, a large-scale talent attraction and retention program.
The rise of remote work and digital literacy has led younger generations to value location and lifestyle above location for a career. The partnership recognized the unparalleled quality of life that West Virginia can offer these talented individuals. Ascend WV is designed to not only attract remote workers, but to support them as they relocate to West Virginia in search of a better quality of life, a meaningful connection to their chosen communities, and a outdoor lifestyle.
Since the program began, the collaboration and the Tourism Department have selected three locations for Ascend WV, with the first cohort of members having already moved to Morgantown and selections underway for Ascend Lewisburg. The third location to launch, Shepherdstown, will begin accepting applications later this year.
WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research conducted an initial analysis prior to the launch of Ascend WV. This first phase of the remote talent and attraction program estimates at least $182.6 million in economic impact, and beyond accepted remote workers, 594 additional jobs in the state.
As the wheel continues to turn, Ascend WV plans to add at least two more communities to this innovative program as success in the first three cities unfolds.
West Virginia Youth Development
Outdoor youth initiatives are also part of the flywheel effect. As the collaboration looks to the future and develops youth initiatives around outdoor recreation in West Virginia, Science Adventure School continues to take action toward its goal of impacting every 6th grader. of State. Recently, a Moonshot grant was awarded to pilot the expansion of a Mobilized Science Adventure School, which allows the school to reach more students who would otherwise not have access to the program. This adventure school programming utilizes the Science Behind the Sport curriculum, where students in an outdoor classroom actively participate in innovative educational experiences through adventure sports. Whether they’re calculating the top speed of a zipline or using their understanding of trajectories to improve their archery skills, Science Behind the Sport sparks a passion for learning that students will continue to pursue.
The collaboration’s youth initiatives have attracted interest from the Youth Cycling Coalition, another partnership of outdoor-minded leaders, and the organization has chosen Morgantown to pilot its joint programming to foster a love of cycling among young people. of West Virginia. In return, the Collaborative is the community liaison for this Coalition. The team conducts research on participation and provides access to the Science Behind the Sport program for additional programming. The Coalition partnership led to a $60,000 donation from Rad Power Bikes to build a Project Bike Tech classroom in Monongalia County schools, which will introduce students to the many career paths in the bike industry. air, as well as prepare them for a variety of starting points in the workforce.
As the collaboration’s youth programming grows, it will touch the lives of West Virginians throughout their most formative years, from elementary school through high school. Developing STEM principles in a unique environment, fostering a love of the outdoors, and instilling a desire to be entertained can be a springboard for the next generation of West Virginia leaders.
Outdoor recreation infrastructure and community development
The collaboration’s programming leverages the state’s mountainous canvas to continue to attract a strong workforce, foster innovation and retain West Virginia’s youth to create the fabric of thriving communities across the West Virginia.
It’s no secret that the state’s rugged topography is known to meet the demands of experienced outdoor enthusiasts. However, to compete with other regions that leverage their outside resources for economic development, West Virginia needs to create better access to its outside assets. The development of additional mountain biking and hiking trails for beginners and intermediates, as well as easy-to-find rock climbing destinations and paddling access points will allow West Virginia to be more competitive in development. community and economic.
To accomplish this, WVU has engaged Richard Edwards to lead the development of outdoor recreation infrastructure and provide communities with project development, management, technical assistance and training to build trails and develop other assets to enhance opportunities for outdoor recreation. For example, Edwards is leading the development of the first 3 miles of a shared-use trail plan project on WVU property.
“This is the starting point for a larger trail initiative with WVU and the City of Morgantown,” Edwards said. “This first trail provides examples of future trail developments and research opportunities that help fulfill the University’s mission to support communities across the state.”
Currently working in more than 11 communities across the state with even more discussions, the collaboration looks forward to providing additional support throughout West Virginia. The collaboration looks forward to helping communities that want to get more out of their outdoor recreation assets by developing partnerships and helping local leaders and groups activate their assets.
Due to the tremendous growth and scope of work undertaken by the office, two leadership positions are responsible for focused initiatives and programs.
Greg Corio, Assistant Vice President for Advocacy and Outdoor Youth Initiatives, oversees initiatives such as Science Behind the Sport, Science Adventure School, and acts as a liaison between the Youth Cycling Coalition and other associated partnerships. Corio’s 18 years at West Virginia University focused on outdoor recreation and education beginning with the founder of Adventure WV, and evolving into the vision of what collaboration is today. today.
In January 2020, Danny Twilley joined WVU to help found the collaboration. Twilley serves as Assistant Vice President of Economic, Community and Asset Development and manages outdoor economy initiatives, which include talent attraction and retention such as Ascend WV, outdoor community development air, outdoor recreation asset development, business and workforce development. Both roles leverage WVU’s intellectual capital, focusing on using research that tells West Virginia’s story while highlighting and acting on areas for improvement in those areas.
The efforts of the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative embody the Smiths’ vision of “55 Strong Counties” by creating continued momentum for growing opportunities within the state’s outdoor economy. Capitalizing on West Virginia’s strengths to enhance what is already abundant in outdoor recreation positions the state as a desirable place to live, work, and play. The program’s early impact shows that the Smiths’ vision and gift will change the lives of West Virginians. The Collaboration’s efforts are only beginning to move the wheel forward and will continue to impact generations to come.
CONTACT: Christina Petrilli
External communication and marketing manager
Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative
304-590-4594; [email protected]
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