Discussing the Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative with Positively West Virginia Podcast

Birds eye view of West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia

On April 9, 2021, Danny Twilley and Paris Winfrey appeared on the Positively West Virginia podcast to discuss the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC) with co-hosts Jim Matuga and Frank Vitale. Danny is the Associate Dean for the OEDC and Paris is the Program Coordinator. Both individuals were excited to share the OEDC story with Positively West Virginia – a podcast that prides itself on equipping small business owners and entrepreneurs with tools they need to succeed in West Virginia – and its listeners. 

The show kicked off with Danny and Paris diving into an overview of the OEDC. Danny began, explaining that the initiative has two main focuses: youth education and outdoor economy work. He went on to explain that both focuses come together to serve the overarching goal of the program, which is to leverage West Virginia’s unique outdoor recreational assets to provide economic prosperity for West Virginians in the state’s various communities. 

Paris elaborated on Danny’s overview, explaining that they’re taking a hard look at West Virginia and finding what makes it unique. “One thing you can’t replicate from West Virginia is the mountains,” he said. “You can be awestruck by the natural beauty here.”

After providing an overview of the OEDC for listeners, Jim clarified that the program is under the West Virginia University Office of the Provost. Danny used this as an opportunity to dive into the origins of the OEDC, saying that the program was built off the shoulders of past work being done by the university to highlight the unique outdoor assets of the state. Danny then provided listeners with a colorful anecdote, recalling how the program “started with a blank piece of paper, two pens and a cup of coffee.” 

Discussing the inspiration and early work that led to this initiative, Frank made the point that innovation and entrepreneurship are what Brad D. Smith and his wife Alys are all about. Agreeing with Frank’s sentiment, Danny then moved on to discussing Brad’s vision, and how the recent adaptation of remote work grants individuals more freedom and allows them to expand their geographical horizons and work from a place that provides beautiful outdoor recreation. 

Jim recapped that the program first began coming together in January 2020. “Your initiative is perfect timing,” he laughed. He pointed out that this initiative aligns perfectly with the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on opening people’s minds to the concept of remote work.  

The hosts and guests then discussed some of the program specifics, outlining the first three communities that will be impacted by the OEDC: the initial community, Morgantown, followed by Shepherdstown and Lewisburg. 

“We’re trying to create a place for everyone,” Danny emphasized. He talked about the three different towns and what they offer for different people and their preferences. From a college-town atmosphere to a quieter, historic suburb, the idea is that targeting different towns will provide a desired variety for people looking to relocate. 

Danny then went on to reiterate that through the OEDC they will be bringing remote workers in and focusing on outdoor infrastructure. He mentioned that there will be a financial incentive to ease the burden of those moving, but emphasized that the power of the program is in retention. The goal is to keep people in West Virginia to create and continually build community. 

To help remote workers prosper, Paris explained how they will be creating co-working spaces as a means of bringing people together and inspiring collaboration.The discussion around co-working spaces excited all of the podcast participants who agreed on the idea that collaborating in person lends itself to powerful synergy and creativity. 

Switching gears, Danny then went on to talk about the Youth Cycling Coalition, a pilot program launching in Morgantown. He recapped with pride how West Virginia was once off the radar for this exciting youth initiative and how they were able to draw the pilot to WV by highlighting all the state has to offer. Danny explained that through this coalition, 11 national nonprofits will come together to help kids get active through cycling. The idea is that by getting kids outdoors and active, their families will get active in turn, moving the larger needle on public health in West Virginia. 

As the end of the hour drew near, Danny gave an anecdote about he and Greg Corio,  Assistant Vice President of the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, listening to Brad speak at the Inaugural CEO Panel in Huntington with Marshall University. During his speech, Brad mentioned a similar outdoor recreation program being done in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Danny said hearing that really sparked an idea as they pondered starting an initiative in West Virginia. When he and Greg had the opportunity to talk to Brad at a later date, they also brought up the idea of remote work. “Brad is so kind,” Danny shared, “and this started our journey and our relationship with Brad and Alys.” 

Danny continued, “One of the things you’ll know about Brad and Alys is that they love West Virginia. Brad said he believed we could help bring this idea to life. For him, it’s West Virginia first. I tell him almost every time I meet with him that I won’t sleep until our work touches all 55 counties. We’re stewards of Brad and Aly’s gift. Our job is to make their vision a reality.”

Before closing the show, Danny and Paris gave advice to entrepreneurs seeking to make an impact through outdoor recreation. Paris advised interested listeners, “Hop on the train as soon as possible. The world is transitioning into a new era. I really believe this idea of improving quality of life through outdoor recreation is going to grow. Now is the time to leverage that.” 

The podcast concluded with all participants sharing their excitement for the program’s future, ending on a note about how the initiative will diversify the culture and economy of West Virginia. Jim and Frank closed the show by giving a thank-you to Danny and Paris. To watch the podcast episode on Facebook, click here.