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A West Virginia town preps for life after coal

November 30, 2017

trains carrying coal
Coal trains still run throughout West Virginia, but town officials in Williamson know they must bring a different kind of energy to bear in constructing a successful economy.

Once billed as the “heart of the billion-dollar coal fields,” Williamson, West Virginia, has seen its town coffers shrink, spurring leaders’ creativity.

Their goal: find ways to meet the post-coal years head on. An effort with the ex-mayor at its heart sprang up to connect grass-roots residents with grant funders – a coordinated push showcased in the latest episode of Save Our Towns.

“They’re nationally known and a shining example of what a small town can do to turn itself around," said Virginia Tech student Crystal Cook Marshall, who studies rural economies. She is close to finishing her Ph.D. in the Department of Science and Technology in Society in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Because of Williamson’s outreach and networking efforts, the town may be "even better connected or well-known outside of Appalachia than they are inside of Appalachia."

In the Maxwell’s Number segment of Save Our Towns, Maxwell Vandervliet, of New York City, a master's student of urban and regional planning in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, illustrates a federal project offering money to towns to promote local foods.

A field biologist offers the expert tip, with Josh Kelly of Mountain True, pointing out that environmental preservation and jobs growth aren’t necessarily contradictory.

Elsewhere in the episode, the Pennington Gap update focuses on the town’s pride and joy – its theater. And five Appalachia-rooted authors wax poetic about rivers and mountaintops, giving insights about the land’s meaning.

Award-winning Save Our Towns, produced by Outreach and International Affairs, has garnered several education and communications awards, including a pair of Summit Awards from the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in November. The series speaks to small-town mayors and town managers throughout Appalachia with a mission to guide and inspire those who are working to build strong communities.

Melissa McKeown contributed to this report.

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