So what is the first step?
In order for a plan like this to work, the community must believe in it. The first step in any type of "recovery" is an admission that there is a problem. From the statistics, it is clearly evident that Southern West Virginia has economic problems. If the area is going to survive, there must be some incentive for people (specifically young people) to stay in the area and to attract talent to the area. This incentive mostly involves job creation.
In addition, if the area is going to attract talent to the region, there must be some incentive to move to the region. Potential employers want a community that can provide their employees with a "high quality of life." A strong tourist industry will make the area more attractive for industry to locate in Southern West Virginia.
A coordinated effort must be made by the counties (Mercer and Summers) along with the State of West Virginia. Local communities such as Bluefield, WV, Princeton, WV, Athens, WV and Hinton, WV must support the effort. In addition, support from neighboring counties such as Monroe, McDowell, Raleigh West Virginia and Tazewell and Giles County in Virginia would be beneficial.
This must be thought of as "The Tide that Raises all Ships."
So what must be done?
The first "thing" that must be done is to believe this plan will work. The 30 for 30 - Sole Man: The Jordan Effect offers an insight into how to create a "superstar." As a region, we must "go all in" into an initiative and create a "superstar."
Sonny Vaccaro convinced Nike to name Michael Jordan as their representative for a new shoe, "The Air Jordan." This turned out to be one of the most lucrative deals in history.
Southern West Virginia needs to "name their Michael Jordan" and support that initiative. Spreading out this idea across the region will only result in failure. The success must come from one initiative and focus only on this plan. If the area develops into a thriving hub for investors, a ripple effect will stimulate the joining counties and towns.
Diversifying efforts will be beneficial once the Pipestem Plan is successful, however in the early stages of the plan, it is essential that a centralized attraction be created first. The TEDTalk - Why do competitors open their stores next to one another? gives a great explanation of why a "dense" attraction of tourism must be created first. This video gives and excellent explanation of Nash Equilibrium Theory - which ironically is named after John F. Nash, a Nobel Laureate winner who was born in Bluefield, WV. It will be tempting for every locality in the region to develop their own plans of successful models. However, everyone must support a "grand plan" with the belief that this plan will ultimately benefit them in the long run.
The second "thing" that needs to be done is to create a "designation" for the corridor. Declaring the Rt. 20 corridor from I-77 to I-64 as a "Certified Tourism Zone" would be an example of showing potential investors that the state is serious about tourism. A clear definition of this "designation" will be very useful when trying to attract investors from outside the area. It will be up the the elected representatives of the state to decide what benefits a zone such as this will give to investors. An example of a benefit is something like a x year tax break if someone invests y amount of money into a business that is certified as a "tourism business." These details are for the state to decide.
The third "thing" to be done is to create an end goal, if success were to be achieved, what would that end goal look like? Perhaps, x amount of revenue coming into the area in the form of tax. Y number of people employed from this initiative. Z number of tourists visit the area. Goals like this are useful to measure how successful we are over the next few years.
The 4th "thing" is to create a realistic timeline, even if success is achieved it will not happen overnight. Realistically an initiative like this could take 20+ years to achieve. However, the end goal is not the only goal. During the time of growth, many, many opportunities will present themselves and the economic growth can potentially provide 1000's of jobs in the process. In the process of growth, imagine the number of construction, engineering and service jobs that will be created.
The 5th item is implementation. Action must be taken to recruit investors into the area. The goal is to reach out to serious investors who are willing to invest "long-term" to potentially make "a lot of money." Just as Sonny Vaccaro stated, you must go all in to win. "We" must pick a "winner' and get behind that initiative.
The 6th step is to monitor. A "monitoring committee" must keep a watchful eye out for new business(s) that could benefit the area, in addition zoning "guidelines" may be created to ensure that the area, maintains a certain feel, perhaps a "mountain feel" would be a appropriate for this region. These zoning guidelines should not be burdensome, but should act to "nudge" the corridor towards a "common theme" that will attract visitors to the area time and time again.
The 7th step is to market, market, market. Billboards and advertisements need to be placed all along the Amtrak Cardinal route. Perhaps even working with Amtrak to increase the number of cars coming to Hinton will be necessary. In large cities such as New York, Chicago and Philadelphia there needs to be a marketing campaign make people aware of "deals" such as "long weekends - Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday escapes to beautiful Pipestem, WV", "midweek specials - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday", etc. This marketing will be essential in the early stages, however once the area is developed and if it is "good", word-of-mouth advertising will "takeover in the long run."
It will be absolutely essentially to "hit the region hard" with attractions in the beginning. In order for the plan to work, when people visit they must not be disappointed. This is why heavy incentives must be given to early investors in the area. Ideally, a theme-park such as Pipestem Theme Park, resort hotels such as Wynhdam, Great Wolf Lodge, attractions such as Speed Zone Fun Park, Ripley's, restaurants such as The Apple Barn, The Mill House, and national restaurant chains should all open nearly simultaneously. This may be difficult to accomplish, however in modern times a newly developed tourism area is competing against established areas with 5+ decades or more of development. Failure will be easy, the last thing that needs to happen is for people to come to an area and be disappointed. Bad word-of-mouth advertising is just as effective as good word-of-mouth advertising, only in the wrong direction.
The 8th step is to repeat. Iterate the steps until the desired level of success is achieved. Hopefully growth is the desired level of success, as the saying goes, "when you're talking about economies, your either growing or dying."
Click the images below to view the videos.