BECKLEY, W.Va. —¬†Leaders from across southern West Virginia gathered at the Tamarack Conference Center Thursday morning to share ideas on helping the region’s economic future.

The 2017 New River Gorge Regional Development Summit was organized by the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. It brought a mix of business owners, government officials and community leaders. One of several guest speakers was Dr. John Deskins, WVU Director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research.

Deskins believes a key component of West Virginia’s future is what he calls “high-income” tourism. He acknowledged outdoor recreation as an important component of the state’s economy. Participants, though, on average don’t spend a lot of money or stay for extended periods of time.

Deskins was inspired by a recent trip to Washington, D.C. to push for West Virginia to become the destination for “second homers”.

“Imagine coming on the weekend to beautiful Greenbrier County or Raleigh County or Pocahontas, Randolph or Hardy County, West Virginia and having a second home. There’s so much potential.”

Deskins is also an advocate for growing the entrepreneurship, manufacturing and technology sectors in the state. At one point during the presentation he was asked if the growing natural gas industry could become large enough to offset the loss of coal jobs in recent years.

“The answer is no,” Deskins responded. “It requires some workers to drill a well. But once the well has been drilled it requires very, very few workers.”

Chief Communications Officer for New River Gorge Regional Development Authority Lillian Graning was very pleased to hear ideas being shared among attendees. She believes networking between community leaders is crucial for economic growth.

“We want it to be an accessible process so that anybody who has interest in recruiting new businesses or starting new organizations knows how to get in touch with us and provide feedback. We’re constantly taking that into consideration.”

Graning also indicated that attendance was strong with around 100 people signed up for the annual event. She, like Deskins, says the economy is looking stronger for West Virginia than it has in previous years.

“He (Deskins) had a little bit more positive outlook this time which is nice to hear,” Graning said. “We’re looking at national trends, state trends, regional trends and to put all of that in context with our programming and the services that we’re offering is great for our constituents and our community partners.”

The most recent set of data from the Bureau of Business & Economics Research at WVU shows the New River Gorge area has emerged from its deepest recession of 2016. This area includes Fayette, Nicholas, Raleigh and Summers Counties.

The largest sector for the region is service-providing sectors such as trade and transportation. It is closely followed by the travel and tourism industry. The numbers are continuously changing.

“Our economy looks completely different than it did in 2014 when we first made this strategic plan,” explained Graning. “So we want to make sure that’s an updated response and that we’re adjusting to the economic environment.”

For additional information on the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority visit their website, nrgrda.org.

View the entire New River Gorge Area economic outlook report here.

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