Local leaders have parlayed redevelopment of the Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery property into an opportunity to do something similar at another northern Hancock County site, this time with technical assistance from the state as part of the "Communities of Achievement" program.
"The goal here is to find another site in northern Hancock County where we can build off the momentum generated by the Taylor, Smith and Taylor project and identify a project, remediate that site if necessary and prepare it for future economic development," said Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle. "It's not supposed to be directly related to Taylor, Smith and Taylor, but a requirement of the program is that you have to identify a project in the vicinity of a recent successful project."
"Communities of Achievement" is a West Virginia Community Development HUB program. The designation, awarded to Chester, means a 10-member steering committee will get whatever technical assistance it needs to identify workable projects in northern Hancock County as well as whatever specialized coaching is needed to complete one of them.
The program is funded by state and federal grants and also the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
HUB Executive Director Kent Spellman said the designation is a 16-18 month process.
"We provide them with training, we provide them with some funding," Spellman said. "But most importantly, we provide each team with a performance coach - a professional who helps the team stay on track, makes sure they're focused and accountable to one another and their community, and helps the team achieve the success that communities so often fail to achieve."
Spellman said one of their earliest projects, in Wayne County, W.Va., resulted in a bond issue that funded construction of a $35 million lodge and conference center.
"That was a huge victory," he said. "But we do see very good returns on investment in most of the communities we work in. The idea is that when they come away from HUBcap they'll have tools they can use not just to complete the project they're working on, but to do other community improvement projects."
Ford said to be eligible for the program, the community first had to show demonstrable success with a project on its own - in this case, demolition of the old pottery and preparations for job and business development there.
Listed as objectives in the community's application for HUBcap status: Choosing a brownfield property and redeveloping it in a way that makes sense for Chester and all of northern Hancock County, be it through establishing green spaces or designating industrial, office or retail uses; create jobs; and identify funding sources for acquisition and site preparation.
"It's up to that committee of 10 to identify a project," he said. "They're with us, step by step, the entire 19 months. And the skillsets, the technical capacity they add to our group will help us identify a site and a project to tackle."