Four Organizations That Support the Environment While Boosting the Economy

An aerial image of Huntington, West Virginia.

For decades, the West Virginia economy depended on the coal industry. But as the world’s approach to energy has shifted, so has West Virginia’s story and role. Recent years have seen the state’s energy market moving in the direction of a low-carbon future. As part of this change, new businesses and organizations across the state are blazing paths, driving economic development through nature-based initiatives. In turn, these new entities are helping to create jobs in impoverished areas while raising awareness for environmental issues and solutions.

An advocate for West Virginia’s people, economy and environment, Brad D. Smith highlights four organizations and businesses working to improve the Mountain State’s economic and environmental future.

Coalfield Development

Since its founding in 2010, Coalfield Development Corporation has made strides in cultivating opportunity across the state. Coalfield has helped to transform communities in southern West Virginia by leveraging over $100 million in regional investments and revitalizing more than 260,000 square feet of previously dilapidated property. From this, more than 700 new jobs have been created and over 1,750 people have been training for future employment in new economic sectors.

Coalfield is working to rebuild Appalachia from the ground up with a focus on social enterprise in the solar, sustainable agriculture, green-collar construction and woodworking industries. Founder Brandon Dennison spoke on the environment and economic growth, “What I like about this nature and economy intersection is that it builds up a lot of strengths that are already here in our place. So rather than trying to transform Appalachia into something it’s not…we’re saying, ‘What’s unique and distinctive about Appalachia and how can we build off of that?’”

Brad, a supporter of Coalfield Development, was featured in the organization’s December 2022 issue of Thematic Matrix. Read it here.

Brad & Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative

As a West Virginia native himself, Brad’s philanthropic efforts have focused on giving back to his roots. In 2020, Brad and his wife Alys Smith bestowed a transformational gift of $25 million to West Virginia University to bolster programs supporting the state’s economy, recreational infrastructure and outdoor educational opportunities for students. Created from this gift, the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC) has helped to support these programs and uplift the Mountain State.

Through the OEDC, Brad and Alys have, in turn, helped to create other programs. The Science Adventure School was established to educate the next generation and encourage exploration through outdoor-based educational opportunities. Additionally, Brad and Alys helped to found Ascend West Virginia, a remote workers program bringing new talent to the state. The program offers support to these workers and their families as they relocate and experience the natural beauty and endless opportunities in Almost Heaven. Brad’s work with Ascend WV has helped lead the program to success and is projected to bring in 1,000 remote workers and their families over the next five years.

Appalachian Botanical Company

Appalachian Botanical Company is growing lavender and the economy in Boone County West Virginia by transforming reclaimed coal mine sites into land used for sustainable agriculture. Lavender thrives on the rocky soil terrain commonly found in these sites and the crop creates an ideal, safe environment for bees to forage and pollinate. As bee numbers have dwindled in recent years, these coal-mines-turned-lavender-fields are serving as an essential part of boosting and rebuilding the ecosystem.

These fields also provide employment opportunities for local residents. Appalachian Botanical hires local residents facing employment barriers to give those in need the training and assistance for long-term job security. Not to mention, the botanical products created from the harvest are produced by hand using high-quality local produce.

Appalachian Botanical is supported as a venture of the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, co-founded by Brad and Alys. Assistance from Wing 2 Wing will aid the company’s future growth and development.

The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia

From solar energy to forestry, the Nature Conservancy has helped encourage nature-friendly economic development activities across the state. Although the Nature Conservancy does work globally, it has specifically served the Mountain State by creating innovative solutions to help nature thrive while boosting the state’s economy. The Nature Conservancy has particularly honed their work to focus on four categories: land conservation, climate change, energy development and forest health. To date, the organization has helped to protect over 125,000 acres of critical natural lands across West Virginia.

Preserving Almost Heaven

Preserving West Virginia’s natural beauty and resources is essential to building a prosperous environment and economy for generations to come. Additionally, the opportunities coming out of environmentally-friendly economic developments create endless possibilities for people across Appalachia. Supporting organizations like the ones listed above ensures that Appalachia is sustainably rejuvenated.