Sourced from WVNews, written by Mark Shaver
WHEELING — Hoping to spur more ideas and conversation about investment in the downtown area and social services, representatives from the city of Fairmont attended a Capital Absorption workshop Monday.
The workshop, held by the Center for Community Investment, saw Fairmont work with officials from Wheeling, Parkersburg and Charleston, with each city focusing on a unique problem that they’d like to tackle. Alex Petry, Fairmont’s program manager for economic development, said the workshop was a great venue to brainstorm ideas on how to bring more investment to downtown.
“I think this has been a great use of our time,” Petry said. “They’re trying to change the way we think about this. They aren’t trying to solve our problems for us, but they’re trying to really engage us in some different types of exercises that make us think about our issue and things going on in our city differently.
“We started off by identifying our shared priorities, and I think we learned a lot there. From there, we developed a pipeline of current projects that are happening within our city, and we kind of ran down those deals within the pipeline. We identified what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong and where a lot of those ideas get stuck.”
Preparation for the workshop started several weeks ago, at which the team — consisting of representatives from Main Street Fairmont, the Fairmont Community Development Partnership, United Way and more — spoke about ways to grow the downtown area despite an issue, or a perceived issue, with homelessness.
However, the conversation evolved and looking into ways to directly help those experiencing homelessness became a main topic on conversation.
“It’s been interesting to see how the idea has evolved from our first meeting,” said Fairmont Community Development Partnership leasing agent and project manager Emily Swain, who was one of several representatives at the workshop. “It seems like what we were originally talking about with the social services component was just an assumed integration into economic development instead of having a whole separate piece. My main concern is making sure that doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.”
When asked to come up with a shared priority, the group agreed that the end goal is to make downtown Fairmont “a place where people want to be.” Both Swain and Petry said that a day at the workshop really put things into perspective, and the group decided that the city needs more conversation and open communication between agencies.
“Any time you can sit down and actually strategize and define goals is (worth it).” Swain said. “It’s difficult. You can think about what you want and what should happen, but when you put pen to paper and actually define it in a concise way, it’s difficult, but in the best way, because you have to think about it and prioritize. That’s where the most growth has happened so far.”
True to the workshop’s nature, Center for Community Investment Executive Director Robin Hacke said these revelations and advancements are the reason for getting these groups together.
“The framework gives people a structured way for people to think about where they’re getting stuck, and to use the experience of other places that have walked this path and think of some new angles and perspectives,” Hacke said. “The work, in the end, gets done at home, but this is an opportunity to give a jolt to the system and maybe think about how you can escape from the status quo and get different results.”
With a fresh perspective on things, the group is ready to take the next step, and will soon bring its findings back to Fairmont’s “home team” to further discuss how to breathe new life into the downtown area.
“I’m excited to move forward, really,” Petry said. “We have these new ways of thinking, and we can take these systems and exercises to our home teams and stakeholders, share everything we learned here and just try to move forward.”