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Rural Business Grant

Terrell Ellis (left), executive director for Advantage Valley, and Kris Warner, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s director for West Virginia, talk about rural business grants.

Kris Warner sat at a table Tuesday afternoon in a small room inside of Advantage Valley’s Bridge Road headquarters. The office is only a few miles from Corridor G, but it might as well be in another time zone from the more rural parts of Kanawha County — let alone the likes of Boone, Lincoln or Wayne counties.

And so Warner addressed the obvious.

“We’re in South Hills in the Capital City,” said Warner, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s director for West Virginia. “What are we doing with a rural business development grant here?”

He then handed out a $50,000 grant for Advantage Valley’s FASTER WV program.

It’s an initiative aimed at better preparing startup businesses and would-be entrepreneurs for success through a series of courses and other advisory resources. FASTER WV is funded by grants totaling more than $1.2 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission as well as the Charles Worthington Benedum Foundation. It also receives support from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation.

Tuesday was a busy day for Warner’s office, as it allocated nearly $3.75 million in West Virginia business development and housing assistance. The bulk of that was a $3.6 million business and industry guaranteed loan toward a hotel project in rural Nicholas County that will save 23 jobs.

It was also announced earlier in the day that the USDA was investing $92,000 to assist a St. Albans woman in becoming a first-time homebuyer via the Section 502 Direct Loan Program. That’s a program designed to provide payment assistance to low-and-very-low income homeowners in rural areas.

But the money awarded later in the afternoon could have the broadest impact, even if it was the lowest sum of the three.

Tuesday’s investment goes toward a revolving loan that officials said is now up to about $500,000 and is managed by the Wyoming County Economic Development Authority. The hope is that loan money will assist in the creation of 50 new businesses over the next three years in Advantage’s eight-county footprint that blankets the Huntington-to-Charleston corridor.

That includes a startup officials say will launch over the next few months in the northern portion of Kanawha County that will save a pair of jobs while creating nine new positions. Officials declined to identify the new business until an upcoming announcement is officially made, but did confirm that it will in the beverage-production industry.

Funding for the program wasn’t secured until the end of 2019 and wasn’t executed until April. That left Advantage Valley to encourage startup business development and enhancement of existing businesses despite the coronavirus pandemic. The application for the grant was submitted in March.

“I want to be clear about this: the end goal isn’t to use up the loan funds,” Terrell Ellis, executive director for Advantage Valley. “It’s really to educate people about what it takes to run a successful business. Our goal is to make it as successful as possible by providing them the knowledge they need through coaching and training before they even access our loan funds.

“Because before we make a loan, we want them to be successful. We don’t want to see them go into default. So if it takes longer for people to get trained and coached so they really understand what they’re doing before they access our loan funds — then so be it. That’s success for us.”