Last week I got an intriguing invitation that runs as follows:
'I am working on several fronts right now, putting together the most ambitious, audacious conference ever in the State of West Virginia, Create West Virginia's Conference on the Future. ... to take place Thursday, October 24 through Saturday, October 26 2013.
I am asking ... thinkers on the future to come to Richwood, West Virginia, a town surrounded by the magnificent Monongahela National Forest, that has a trout stream flowing through it. Richwood's Main Street consists now of 29 mostly boarded-up storefronts of early 1900 vintage. Once a lumber and coal boom town, its residents now drive 25 miles west to Summersville where the big box stores are located on a four-lane corridor that connects two Interstate highways. Richwood appears to be a ghost town, but its 2,000 residents, led by a creative, spunky mayor, believe that it can recreate itself.
We're casting the invitation to the conference very broadly, to economic and community developers, artists and artisans, business people and would-be business people - we're interested in engaging innovators who relish the challenge of reinventing a place, and who want to engage in dialogue with thoughtful people such as yourself.'
Who could resist investigating this further? I took a look at the Richwood city data. It's lost 17.2% of its population since 2000. The median resident age is 49 and the median income is $26,366. In 2012 the unemployment rate was 8.7% and the number of residents living below the poverty level (2009) was 30%, and there were 12 % of Residents with income below 50% of the poverty level in 2009.