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In 2017, Coalfield Development Corp. hosted rural revitalizers from the U.S. and Japan at West Edge Factory in Huntington to find ways to improve their communities.

WAYNE — Over the past 10 years, Coalfield Development Corp. has helped start 52 new businesses, leading to more than 250 new full-time jobs.

Coalfield Development is a 50(c)(3) not-for-profit organization headquartered in Wayne that creates new social enterprises in sectors of the economy that model a more socially, environmental and financially sustainable economy than what the coal industry has provided.

“A social enterprise is a business model which blends the compassion of the charitable worlds with the efficiency of the private sector,” said Coalfield’s founder and CEO Brandon Dennison. “The Coalfield team has worked with gumption, grit and grace to make its vision a reality.”

Some highlights include the organization’s partnership with Solar Holler LLC to found the first solar installation company in Southern West Virginia, as well as the organization’s innovations in the sustainable agriculture field through the founding of Refresh Appalachia.

“We’ve achieved significant and very tangible positive outcomes for the region, but what I’m proudest of is the fact we’ve done it from the ground up,” Dennison said. “We truly respect and listen to the people of Appalachia. We sincerely believe in this place and its people.”

The organization has become internationally renowned for its innovative approach to on-the-job training for people facing barriers to employment. Each week participants are paid for 33 hours of work, attend six hours of community college and complete three hours of personal development so they can better care for themselves and better serve their communities.

Since 2010, the organization has trained more than 1,200 people and increased the income of participants and their families by an average of 150%.

“Coalfield has provided opportunities for employment and training that other employers don’t try or consider,” said Jaron Ekers, a trainee with the organization. “Coalfield looks more at the person and not just their history when making a decision to provide an employment opportunity.”

The organization just released a new strategic plan in which it establishes goals for the next decade that include creating 1,000 new jobs and attracting $90 million in new funding and investment to the central Appalachian region.

“Our organization is willing to take risks and make big bets because we believe in the potential of Appalachia,” said Coalfield board chairman Larry Castle. “Our region has given so much to this country and to the world. And we still have so much more to give. Coalfield Development is leading the way in helping the rest of the world understand just how special our communities really are.”

“A decade ago, we started very small: a few volunteers and friends in one county trying to come up with an approach to dealing with poverty that actually worked, that actually made a tangible improvement in people’s lives,” said founding crew chief and current board member Chase Thomas. “We never could have imagined how fast it has grown, and we can’t wait to see where it goes from here.”

To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, the organization hosted a virtual celebration via Zoom on Aug. 28.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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