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S U M M E R  2011  N E W S L E T T E R


CRAFTING: CREATIVE COMMUNITIES

The tiny towns of rural West Virginia burst with charm and history. That's easy for any visitor to see. But it's also easy to see that the "boom" is long over for most. The challenge for residents is to "reinvent" their economies with new and lasting identities that attract tourists and new residents. For some communities, this identity is tied to the work of their artists and crafters.

One such community is the Town of Sutton. Perhaps Sutton is not the first place we think of when considering artisan communities in West Virginia. Certainly, the successful efforts in towns like Berkeley Springs, Lewisburg and Fayetteville are well known bright spots for the arts. But the persistent progress being made by the Town of Sutton provides an example of hard work paying off. Their efforts have spanned four Mayorships and more than 25 years.

The stage at Landmark Studios
The stage at Landmark Studios is set for a performance of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" by Tennessee Williams.

OLD BUILDINGS BECOME ASSETS

Reinventing Sutton is a work in progress that began in the mid-1980s when sculptor Bill Hopen purchased a long vacant old church. He and his wife planned to use it as an arts community center. What it became was a performing arts theatre called the Landmark Studio. Former Mayor Jim Walker directs a busy schedule of plays at the Landmark. "Many updates have been made to the building. We have tried to keep as many of the original features as possible including the stained glass windows and wood trim," said Mr. Walker. "This is an example of what can be done with a building that people felt was useless."

Tamara Cicogna
Tamara Cicogna displays a gallery glass windowpane in Controled Excentrics studio.

Like many smaller towns, Sutton had no shortage of old buildings. Historically sensitive renovations have turned the tired eyesores into charming hosts for new businesses. Tamara Cicogna and her husband, Bob Pirrung of Washington, PA purchased the three-storey Board of Education building with more than 4,000 square feet. "Because we were able to buy the building for a good price," explained Ms. Cicogna, "we could afford to do the extensive renovations it needed." She continued that her husband felt a bond to the building because W. H. Lee from Carnegie, PA had built it. The 1900 building was originally used as the W. H. Lee Wholesale and Retail Hardware and Furniture Store, which was one of the largest businesses in Central West Virginia.

Ms. Cicogna and Mr. Pirrung operate Town Square Café in the downstairs corner of the building and Controled Excentrics on its third floor. Town Square Café is a family restaurant featuring Starbucks coffees. Controled Excentrics is a wholesale art supply and an open format public workshop, where "no artist is left behind."
Town Square Café
Town Square Café is across the street from Braxton County Courthouse.

People are invited to experiment with a variety of crafts including pottery, stoneware, beading, soap making, glass fusing, porcelain, gallery glass, lamp shades, doll making, candles, mosaics and painting. Use of equipment (such as kilns, clamps, art tools, etc.) is free. Students only pay for the supplies they use in their projects. "We have one rule," said Ms. Cicogna. "People aren't allowed to interfere with the art of others. Each person's art comes from within." The couple is opening a retail art supply store on the ground floor this fall.

Café Cimino started in the corner space of the same building in 1999. Owners Tim and Melody Urbanic quickly built a reputation for excellent food. In 2008 they acquired and renovated the 1905 P. J. Berry estate, just a few blocks from downtown. The larger space and river frontage allowed expansion of their restaurant into a bed and breakfast inn, now called Café Cimino Country Inn.

Café Cimino Country Inn
Café Cimino Country Inn offers fine dining, lodging, spa services and local activities in the historic P. J. Berry estate home.

WALKABLE COMMUNITIES

Most of Sutton's art businesses and restaurants are located in a single block that encircles Braxton County Courthouse and Jail. This is no accident. In 2008 Sutton became one of the first OnTrac Communities in West Virginia. Their mission: to create an inviting vibrant downtown where traditions and new ideas unite focusing on the arts, recreation and history to create a sense of community pride with opportunity for everyone. Having a walkable community for tourists and residents is part of that goal.

When walking the town square you will find Town Square Café, Controled Excentrics, Braxton Motor Inc. (a hardware and furniture store), Needle Basket Quilt Shop and Soda Fountain, Elk Hotel (being converted to a youth hostel), Draft House Pub, P. J. Berry's Restaurant and Gallery, Country Charm Shop, Poplar Forest Gallery, the historic County Courthouse and Jail. Add a couple of blocks and you find Café Cimino Country Inn, the Landmark Studio and the Elk Movie Theatre.

TOURISM AND THE ARTS

Rita (Dee) Sniffen
Rita (Dee) Sniffen opened the Needle Basket Quilt Shop in 2007 because she loves fabric and the quilting craft. She is pleased that younger women are taking classes there and learning how to make custom quilts.

 

Everyone in Sutton understands the link between tourism and the arts. According to Ms. Cicogna, tourists spend between $100 and $200 per day at Controled Excentrics. Residents spend considerably less. Mayor J. L. Campbell and former Mayor Walker agree that their success depends on their ability to build tourism traffic.

Core attractions are Sutton Lake and the Elk River. Sutton is part of the Elk River Scenic Byway. Sutton Lake provides campgrounds, boat launch facilities and other outdoor activities. Mayor Campbell is opening CanoeWV (304-644-2126) this summer, which will conduct canoe and kayak trips on the Elk River.

Mayor Campbell is leading efforts to develop alternative places for tourists to stay. There is a Microtel near the Interstate, the bed and breakfast at Café Cimino Country Inn, campgrounds at the lake and soon a youth hostel downtown. Having a variety of accommodations provides choice for town visitors.

Former Mayor Jim Walker
Former Mayor Jim Walker welcomes visitors to his gallery, the Artisans at P. J. Berry's where the work of several artists is displayed and sold.

 

The State of West Virginia recognizes the link between the arts and tourism. Tamarack, the retail showcase of arts and crafts made in this state, was purposefully located on a main Interstate in Beckley, where many thousands of tourists travel every year.

ADVICE FROM SUTTON MAYORS

Mayors Ed Given, Craig Smith, Jim Walker and J. L. Campbell have all contributed to the planning and leadership required to transform the Town of Sutton. Former Mayor Walker advises having vision and perseverance. "Start with a vision for your town. Look at things that have never been looked at before. Convince artisans to come and residents to support the changes that the town needs to make. Don't give up. It will be hard," he said.

Mayor Campbell advises other communities looking to enhance their arts industry to build a wide base of support. "Get as many people involved as possible. With more ideas, it is more likely to find solutions." He credits the OnTrac program for critical help. "OnTrac provides expertise and advise on all sorts of issues that come up. We could never afford expert consultants without their help."

THE ARTS INDUSTRY

So how many artisans live and work in our communities? Who are they? The State of West Virginia conducted a study of the arts industry in 2003. Another study was produced by Handmade in America in 2006, which focused on opportunities for women. It detailed 4 cases studies of arts businesses across the nation, each with products made exclusively by women. Appalachian By Design in Lewisburg was one of the companies chosen.

Tamarack
As 2011 brings Tamarack's 15-year anniversary, they work with over 2,200 West Virginia artists, literary and performing artists and specialty food producers. Well over 4,000 artisans have been juried into their program since their opening.

According to WV's study, in the year 2002 there were about 2,500 artisans actively working in the state with a total economic impact of just over $81 million. Statistically they were 60 percent women in their mid-50s and in good health. For most, income from art was a secondary resource, which lifted their family slightly above the state's average annual income. Approximately 90 percent of the state's craftspeople in 2002 worked alone in a studio at their residence. Only 7 percent had employees. Please read both of the studies linked above for more details.

"There are many West Virginians who make their living full-time as artisans. Opportunities exist for artisans, who are disciplined in understanding and utilizing sound business practices, to make a very comfortable living," began Ron DeWitt, Artisan Services Director at Tamarack, who works directly with artisans and craftspeople to expand their business. "The most successful artisans in the state use what I call the ‘corporation mentality.' They understand they must perform at an advanced level as a self-employed entrepreneur in all of the same departments or functions that it takes to operate a successful corporation. They achieve excellence in management, marketing, sales, production, operations, scheduling, etc."

TAMARACK'S IMPACT

Twice a year appointments for pre-screenings are scheduled, which is the first step in Tamarack's jury process. The Tamarack Foundation sponsors the Artisan Resource Center (ARC) "On the Road" program which is designed to reach artisans in areas that are remote to Beckley. The ARC typically travels to the Northern and Eastern Panhandles at least twice a year. Tamarack attempts to have a presence in every region of the state.

The pre-screening process at the Tamarack Foundation Artisan Resource Center has been at the forefront of providing resources and practical business and marketing counseling for West Virginia artisans. "As the economy declined over the past several years," explains Mr. DeWitt, "artisans have been looking for additional ways to recover from declining sales at many of the shows they participate in, or find new outlets for their products due to the large number of closings of galleries and shops. They are eager to maximize their full business potential."

In November 2010, the Tamarack Foundation surveyed Tamarack juried artisans asking what they would like the Foundation to offer in support of their businesses. Here's what people participating with Tamarack wanted to learn more about.

Top 10 in Order of Importance to Artisans

  1. Artisan Resource Center
  2. Website Development
  3. Retail Markets
  4. Professional Development Grants
  5. Wholesale Markets
  6. Juried Show Awards
  7. Fellowships
  8. Product Pricing
  9. Computer Training
  10. Artist Statement

Sources of 2002 Retail Sales
Sources of 2002 Retail Sales
FROM THE WEST VIRGINIA CRAFTS STUDY

Tamarack and the Tamarack Foundation work with state and local organizations on initiatives and programs to strengthen and reinforce their work to promote the arts industry and individual artisans. "We know it is necessary to provide opportunities for our artisans to find the right markets, galleries, shops, fairs and festivals," said Mr. DeWitt. "We work very closely with numerous regional and national organizations such as the Kentucky Arts Council, Ohio Designer Craftsmen, the Buyers Market of American Craft and the American Craft Council."

 

HOW ARTS AND CRAFTS ARE SOLD

According to the West Virginia study, nearly half of all arts and crafts products are sold at the wholesale level. Only a fourth of sales are made outside of the state. The charts shown provide breakouts of retail sales categories and where sales took place.

"Every artisan has a different formula for creating income for their businesses," said Mr. DeWitt. "Over the past several years, Tamarack has encouraged artisans to create diverse sources of income due to the economic downturn in the U. S. economy." Opportunities to create a successful artisan business include:

Location of Annual Gross Sales/Revenue
Location of Annual Gross Sales/Revenue
FROM THE WEST VIRGINIA CRAFTS STUDY

  • Wholesaling to shops and galleries
  • Retailing at shows and specialty events
  • Teaching their art and/or craft
  • On-line retail store fronts

"There are a number of on-line wholesale and retail locations that provide a significant source of income for a number of West Virginia artisans," Mr. DeWitt explained. "Artisans may want to investigate WholesaleCrafts.com and etsy.com. Individual artisan websites are primarily used as a marketing tool for artisans to keep in touch with repeat customers."

According to Mr. DeWitt, the dual role of craft shows is to provide marketing opportunities for artisans and to preserve cultural heritage. "Many of the shows in the state also provide hands on classes for the public in order to provide an understanding of the processes and steps necessary to bring an item to market," he said.

The largest shows in the state are:


MOUNTAIN STATE DEER FARMING

By Gwen Hagaman

In last winter's Legislative Session Senate Bill 351 was introduced, which proposed transferring oversight of farm-raised white tail deer and other domestic cervid species (includes red deer, elk and similar breeds) from West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WVDNR) to West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVAG). The bill sparked controversy regarding views and definitions of "wild" versus "farm" deer. Although soundly passing the House, Speaker Richard Thompson of Wayne County blocked SB 351 from coming to a vote in the Senate.

This issue doesn't get the same loud attention as coal mine safety or teachers salaries. Yet many people are surprised when they learn the issues related to deer farming and what could happen just by switching oversight to a different state agency. There are more than two dozen licensed deer farms operating in 15 West Virginia counties at this time. Many others are ready to open, depending on the outcome of SB 351 during the next Legislative Session. Read with me while I explain the issues as I understand them, then you decide what makes sense and let your representatives know your position.

ABILITY TO SELL VENISON FOOD PRODUCTS

"Although ‘white tail deer' meat cannot be sold, WVDNR allows the sale of elk and red deer for slaughter as specified in Legislative Rule 58CSR63 that regulates the commercial sale of wildlife," explains Frank Jezioro, Director, Division of Natural Resources. "Further, the sale of non-traditional livestock is governed by the Department of Agriculture in West Virginia Code Chapter 19 Article 29, which exclusively exempts white tail deer as non-traditional livestock. This includes all animals (native and non-native) raised for domestic purposes except ‘white tail deer'".

Packaged Venison

 

Selling white tail deer meat is specifically excluded by law. However, the hide, head, antlers and feet of legally taken game can be sold. According to Mr. Jezioro there are no other native species that are held in captivity or have as large of an economic impact on West Virginia as the white tail deer.

Harold K. Michael, Delegate for Hardy and Pendleton Counties, co-sponsored SB 351. "Farm-raised deer should be allowed the same as other livestock. WVDA has the ability to regulate deer as livestock and to inspect the meat and other products (breeding stock, urine for hunting scent, semen for breeding, skins for leather, antlers for art pieces, bucks for private hunting, etc.) that would be produced in the same way as they do for other livestock," he said.

"If the law were to change," said Buddy Davidson, WVDA Communications Officer, "WVDA could provide the industry with veterinary and herd health services, as well as marketing and publicity assistance as requested."

The U. S. imports millions of dollars worth of venison and cervid products from other countries, including New Zealand, each year. According to Mark Cobb, President of WV Deer Farmers Association, over 90 percent of the venison consumed in restaurants or purchased in grocery stores and deli's is imported. "This seems crazy to me," he said. "We can produce our own venison in West Virginia which will create jobs, produce revenue in local communities, enable farms to gain a new market and provide venison, a healthy sustainable red meat."

Venison has half the calories and a third of the fat compared with beef. In recipes calling for beef, venison can be substituted straight across. It can be made into jerky, sausage, ground meat, steaks or roasts. Venison is a healthy red meat alternative, which is very popular as food in West Virginia, a state ranking as one of the most obese in the nation.

JURISDICTION BY DEFINITIONS

"The responsibility of the WVDNR is to manage natural resources (e.g., wildlife) for the citizens of West Virginia. Because deer are defined as ‘wildlife' in WV Code Chapter 20-1-2, the legislature has placed their regulatory authority under the WVDNR," said Mr. Jezioro, as he explains his position to keep oversight of farm deer with WVDNR. "Although deer farmers classify deer in their possession as domestic animals, they are genetically wild. Because WVDA does not have a vested interest in the welfare of wildlife in the state, regulatory authority should be kept under the DNR to protect this resource and the half a billion dollar industry generated through hunting and other outdoor activities."

"SB 351 was proposed at the request of cervid farmers in the state because most of them, as farmers, believe they would be better served under the WVDA rather than WVDNR, which is in charge of West Virginia's wildlife," explains Mr. Davidson. "It is the location and ownership of an animal, not its species, that determines if it is ‘wild' or not. Wild deer do not live behind fences, just as domestic cattle don't roam through the forests. Domestic cervids are bred and raised in captivity. Their care and condition is overseen by humans, just as traditional livestock are managed by other farmers."

WVDA is responsible for all of the food and the food chain in state including: slaughterhouses, restaurants, grocery stores, and more. They actively promote the products of industries under their oversight, with 12 marketing and development officers on staff. WV deer farmers believe WVDA has more appropriate staff, equipment and expertise to effectively guide production of food products made from venison. Here's how WVDA and WVDNR compare:

 

Staff Veterinarians

Animal Health Personnel

Portable Incinerators for Disease Control

Meat Inspectors

WVDA

5

22

1

13

WVDNR

0

0

0

0

Mr. Jezioro states, "No other livestock animal in West Virginia can be confused (either genotypic or phenotypic) with a native wild animal." But when I shop for groceries, I regularly see turkey, quail, duck, rabbit, trout, and catfish for sale in the meat department. There are seasons and licenses to hunt or fish legally for all of these animals, so they still exist as wild game. Aren't all of these species of animals farmed for meat production? I'm sure there are genetic differences between wild turkey, for example, and farm turkey, which have been bred for specific traits over a period of many years. WVDA currently provides health inspections for fish farmers in the state, who produce trout and other species of fish. Doesn't WVDNR use farm trout to stock wild waterways?

"A common public misconception is that our farm-raised deer come from the wild. This is not the case," explains Mr. Cobb. "Many of the first deer entering the deer farming industry were born in overcrowded zoos and research facilities. University of Pennsylvania has sold some the greatest white tails and genetics in the nation. Many West Virginia deer farmers bought their first deer and elk from WVDNR's French Creek Game Farm. It is illegal for us to capture wild deer or to release our farm-raised deer into the wild," said Mr. Cobb. "Deer breeders do not want wild deer due to genetics and disposition."

"I started raising elk because I missed seeing them from when I lived in Colorado," continued Mr. Cobb. "I wanted to see them, hear them bugle, watch them grow antlers, and gather their harems. I know many folks that started into this business for similar reasons."

POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF "FAIR CHASE" MORALITY

Mr. Jezioro believes the deer farming industry violates several basic tenants of the North American model of wildlife conservation. This viewpoint is expressed in an article recently published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin entitled 'The Antler Religion'.  I encourage you to read the linked article to fully understand WVDNR's position regarding morality in hunting. "Although the article addresses intensive deer management where deer are intensively managed for trophy or massive antlers, the same applies to the products of deer farmers in West Virginia," said Mr. Jezioro. The Antler Religion focuses on trophy buck breeding, primarily in Texas, and private hunting reserves where guests pay to shoot penned deer.

CONTROL OF CHRONIC WASTING AND OTHER DISEASES

"WVDNR continues random testing of dead deer across the entire state and does concentrated testing in the area already known to be infected with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)," said Mr. Jezioro. "We do restrict the baiting or feeding of deer in the infected area to avoid concentrating the deer at these feeding stations as it is widely accepted by CWD experts that close, nose to nose contact like that encountered at feeding troughs or feed piles, does in fact encourage the spread of CWD." At present there is no live test for CWD in deer. The brain stem has to be inspected to determine the presence of CWD.

"Since we are not sure what causes the disease, it is hard to say if the current measures of WVDNR are adequate to control CWD," said Delegate Michael. "Farm deer are in better health generally because of the nutrition and care they receive."

"There have been no CWD positives in captive herds in West Virginia – only in wild deer," states Mr. Davidson. "WVDA has a proven, time-tested record of eradicating animal diseases and then keeping them out of our livestock herds. Doing the same for cervid producers would simply be a continued use of the department's considerable expertise."

Under WVDA oversight, farm deer would be subject to health inspection before they enter the state. Their segregation from wild populations and veterinary care would both be protective measures. According to WVDA, farm deer with symptoms of disease would likely be individually identified because of ongoing human observation.

"I truly believe that CWD is a naturally occurring disease that has been around for centuries and will eventually be found in all states that currently have wild deer populations. If enough wild deer were tested for CWD, we would certainly find a lot more positive CWD cases," said Mr. Cobb. "Remember deer farms in WV test 100 percent and the wild deer are tested at less than .01 percent. Even at these rates, the WV deer farmers have zero positive cases. We all know that the CWD containment area in the wild deer population is spreading."

USE OF UNINSPECTED VENISON

For the past 20 years WVDNR Wildlife Resources Section has sponsored the Hunters Helping the Hungry (HHH) Program. Since the start of the program, 19,296 deer yielding 734,238 pounds of meat have been available to needy families and individuals throughout the state. Hunters participating in the program take their deer to certified meat processors where it is turned into two-pound packages of ground venison. Mountaineer Food Bank (Gassaway) and Huntington Area Food Bank, both members of Feeding America, collect the venison and distribute it to the needy through their network of qualified charitable food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, shelters, community centers, orphanages, missions, and churches statewide.

We can all agree that this is a wonderful program. But few people realize that the meat is not inspected. Mr. Jezioro admits the meat is not inspected, but says he believes the meat is safe for WV families to eat.

"CWD is a disease that gets a lot of public attention and is very similar to Mad Cow Disease in cattle and scrapies in sheep and goats. The public has not stop eating beef, lamb or goat," said Mr. Cobb. "I believe the reason is that we trust the officials responsible for our food and agriculture. The animal disease experts are the USDA folks. Many folks don't realize this, but the USDA is actually the agency that baits for rabies in the wild animals and many other wild animal diseases. Folks mistakenly believe that the DNR is the agency involved with wildlife diseases and often surprised to find out that it is indeed the USDA. The USDA and WVDA are responsible for the public food chain in WV and they are doing a fine job to make sure the food that we consume is safe."

If the laws were changed and a meat market developed, the venison and processing facilities would be subject to mandatory WVDA or USDA inspection. "WVDA's primary role would be ensuring the health of cervid herds. Conceivably, WV venison could be sold wholesale or retail," said Mr. Davidson.

The WV Deer Farmers Association believes that by blocking the sale of venison food products, which the group calls their most desirable market, WVDNR will force deer farmers to focus on producing trophy bucks. "We would like to be able to produce and sell venison products, but it is illegal in WV," said Mr. Cobb. "WV breeders can sell breeding stock to new producers while working to gain the ability to sell their venison. Some deer are exported out of state, but because WV is a CWD positive state (in the wild deer herd only), many states will not allow importation of our live deer. We do have a deer farm that bottles urine for scents and most sell semen and antlers."

RURAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

"Deer farming has real economic benefit to the state," explains Delegate Michael. "We already have a limited number of deer breeders in our state. Venison products are legal to be imported into West Virginia from foreign countries. It makes no sense why we cannot grow and market deer as livestock."

Deer farms can be started with as little as 10 acres of land. West Virginia is a perfect place for farming deer because:

  • There are many small family farms
  • Rugged terrain is natural habitat for deer, but not well suited for other types of agriculture
  • It's located in between Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are among the top 5 deer farming states

According to Mr. Cobb, a Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) agent stated that captive cervid farming greatly assisted in maintaining rural family farms. "We already know that deer thrive in our geographic area and that much of the land in our state is not suitable for traditional farming (i.e., vast fields for grazing cattle or making hay, or tillable, fertile land for raising crops)."

"A large portion of our people support deer farming without realizing it," begins Mr. Cobb. "When you stop at the local grocery or convenience store and buy venison snack sticks or jerky, it is imported venison. Deer antler art such as knife handles, candleholders, lamps, chandeliers, belt buckles, pens, etc., are imported or come from U.S. deer farms. Also, while not as popular in the U. S., many countries use the deer velvet (soft antler) as a natural remedy for medicinal purposes. Soft deerskin gloves or slippers come from deer hides. One of the largest venison markets is the deer urine market. Those bottles of ‘doe-N-heat,' ‘buck-N-rut,' or active scrape scents that are sold at the local Wal-Mart and sporting goods stores come from deer farms all across the U. S. As you can see, the deer farming industry already has ready markets. These markets would grow if we could sell our locally raised venison under the supervision of the WVDA."

The deer farming industry is growing all around West Virginia with Pennsylvania (1,100 deer farms) and Ohio (1,000 deer farms) leading the way. The WV Deer Farmers Association estimates the following breakdown of industry activity, with most deer farms participating with multiple products.

Product category

Percentage of industry

Anticipated change

Breeding stock and/or Semen

90%

Will diminish to match industry's sustainable balance

Antlers

80%

Growing segment of industry

Trophy bucks

60%

Breeders will continue to sell some of their bucks

Meat and Food

10%

Growing segment of industry, currently illegal in WV

Hides

10%

Growth tied to meat production

Scents

5%

Stable segment of industry

The changes proposed by SB 351 would likely double the number of deer farms in West Virginia immediately and allow an expanded product line for each one – including healthy, inspected food products made from farm-raised venison. After the first year, ongoing industry growth is projected at 25 percent per year. Whether you are in favor or against transferring oversight of deer farms from WVDNR to WVAG, please let your representatives know your opinion.

For more detailed information about the development of deer farming in West Virginia, please see the following documents:

Contribution of West Virginia’s Cervid Farming Industry to the State Economy, 2010-2011 ... 1.5 MB pdf

Economic Advantages of Cervid Farming ... 100 KB pdf

The Contribution of WV Cervid Farming Industry ... 1.5 MB ppt


ALLIANCE PROJECT COMMITTEES

Committees have started work on projects for surveillance cameras and for expansion of internet access. Both projects were started by responses to the Alliance survey in the Winter 2011 issue of this newsletter. "Both of these projects are truly ground roots efforts," said Marcel Fortin, Alliance Executive Director. "I want to encourage communities across the state to join these committees and bring new assets to their residents."

The project for surveillance cameras will serve to reduce vandalism in troublesome locations, increase the reach of local police, and provide video of community events that can be used for marketing purposes. Ideas were shared at a planning meeting held on April 29. Jaqueline Weeks of the Weston Family Resource Network (FRN) and Amanda Barney of the Town of Wardensville will be leading this committee.

"The idea of bringing several communities to the table is to consolidate their needs into a larger project that will be more attractive to funders," explains Mr. Fortin. "Most of our communities have pretty similar needs. The Alliance will help to package ideas into grant applications and submit them to likely funding organizations. If we work together, we will be more likely to succeed."

The project for internet expansion involves getting adequate internet speeds to serve police, volunteer fire departments, local businesses, community centers and downtown areas. The interesting element is participation by our youth. A planning meeting was held on May 25 and lots of ideas were shared. "I am very excited to see so many people working together to improve conditions in their communities," said Mr. Fortin.

People working on the internet expansion project include Loudonna Watkins of Sherman, Rick Moorefield of the City of Hinton Economic Development, Jerry Edens of Barbour County Community Development Corporation, Dick Bartlett of Moatsville, David King of Hi-Y in Point Pleasant, Ryan Rebant of Bath, and Brenda Wilmoth of the Belington Senior Center.

If your community would benefit from surveillance camera systems or from expanded internet access and you would like to help, contact one of the committee members listed or Marcel Fortin at 304-756-2264.


MEET STEVE REYNOLDS

Steve Reynolds
Steve Reynolds
Stained Glass Artist and Accomplished Webmaster.

"Our stained glass business led me to become a website developer," explained Steve Reynolds of Hamlin, who originally developed and maintains the Alliance website. He and his wife, Ann Contois, make handcrafted stained glass art and sell it online. The art pieces cover a range of styles from representational to abstract. They work with copper foil technology, which was originally developed by Louis Tiffany.

Nona Conley of Lincoln County introduced Steve to the Alliance. "Nona is a wonderful lady that helps with everything in the community," he said. "She told me about the Alliance of WV Champion Communities, so I went to one of the group's first meetings in Summersville."

"I have lived in West Virginia most of my life. I thought this was an opportunity to meet great people and I had a skill to share," Steve said. "Economic development is important. It makes other things happen. More prosperity equals more choices for the decent hard-working people in West Virginia. It's like the old saying… ‘teach a man to fish.'"

At that meeting, Steve talked to the group about using the internet as a virtual meeting place to discuss ideas without having to travel so much. Everyone there liked the idea, so he built the Alliance's first website for free. "I'd like to thank Steve for his passion and contributions to the success of the Alliance," said Marcel Fortin, Alliance Executive Director.

"Steve continues to be a great asset for the Alliance. He came to the organization as a volunteer and became an important contributor to the development and deployment of our website," explained Marcel. "Our website is the face of the organization that the public sees. How it functions is extremely important to us. Steve's expertise produced a cost effective communication tool that is easily navigated and updated. His ability to respond to modifications and additions to the site has been outstanding. Whenever we have a new project or idea, he always provides solutions that turn our ideas into indispensable online messages that are affordable, timely and user friendly."

Steve has become integral in all Alliance marketing projects including the deployment of this newsletter. "After writing the newsletter and adding new subscribers to the database, I send everything to Steve," explains Gwen Hagaman, Alliance Marketing Director. "He makes the technical conversions, prepares an email image of our headlines, and takes care of the emailing process. I really appreciate his accuracy and sense of urgency in getting our newsletters out to the public."

In 1995 Steve and Ann designed a website to promote their stained glass crafts. "Our 20 years of experience with in-booth sales at craft shows helped us gain an understanding of internet sales. It's like having an online booth," Steve said.

At that time, Steve and Ann were exhibiting work at juried art shows across the Mid-Atlantic states. Other artists took notice of their website and wanted help creating something similar for their own studios. "We had to learn how to sell our own work on the internet before we could sell the work of others online," Steve said. "Having a solid understanding of sales and business issues is extremely important in being a good website developer."

But it wasn't long before Steve and Ann acquired numerous web design clients with arts businesses. So they launched one of the first online galleries showing original handmade art, the Juried Online Arts Festival. Today, the successful internet gallery represents several hundred artists from all over the United States.

Their web development business continued to grow, reaching into other industries including lawyers, doctors and non-profit groups. "Websites should present information that is valuable to the client's niche," explained Steve. "Effective websites feature easy navigation, fast-loading pages, descriptive and concise text, clutter-free appearance, search engine friendly code, and flexible architecture that makes updates convenient. For our clients, we manage all of the technical issues, domain registration, hosting arrangements and set-up of email accounts for very affordable prices."

Some examples of websites developed by Steve and Ann include Bill Johnson Landscape Photography, Bear the Love, Wolf Creek Printery, and Central Appalachia Empowerment Zone

Meditation Window

By the turn of the millennium, Steve and Ann decided to "get off the road" and sell their stained glass artwork exclusively through the internet. But some changes had to be made to transition from in-person to online sales. "My favorite product to make are our Meditation Windows," Steve said. "They are beautiful windows and have a deep impact on viewers. They sold extremely well when people could see and examine the window with light shining through. But of course, some of the impact is lost when viewing a photograph of the window on a computer monitor."

Steve explained that other requirements of online sales include developing products that are easy to package and ship, represent a wide price range and address the subjects that internet visitors search for. "People search for specific terms to describe what they are looking for," he said. "For example, people who like birds may search for a ‘bird sun catcher.' It is more difficult to sell abstract art online because there are few descriptive terms a person might use to search for it. People rarely browse through art online as they would at a physical gallery."

Bluebird Suncatcher

"Making one-of-a-kind pieces, as many artists do, is not very practical for online sales," Steve continues, "unless that work is at the high end price-wise. Because of the investment in photography, writing descriptions, shopping cart entries and other postings necessary for each product sold online, producing limited editions is much more cost effective."

As for measuring results in terms of website traffic, Steve believes in quality over quantity. "I prefer 100 serious visitors instead of 1,000 people who are aimlessly clicking through websites. Some are impressed by how many ‘hits' their website has received. Instead, we focus on how many sales it has produced," he said.

For more information about Steve Reynolds' stained glass artwork or website development services contact him through ClassicWebsiteDesign.com.

 


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