The luck of the Irish was present at the Pocahontas County Opera House last week as the Chamber of Commerce held its annual dinner to celebrate a great year of businesses and to honor the Individual and Business of the Year.
Chamber president Bill Jordan announced the recipient of the Individual of the Year award – Marlinton resident Mark Strauss.
“This person can be seen during the Greenbrier River Race, Pioneer Days, Autumn Harvest Festival and other events in the county,” Jordan said. “This person can be seen directing traffic, moving barricades, putting up tents and tables. At the end of the day, you can see this person taking down the tents, tables and helping everyone.”
Jordan added that Strauss is a member of the Marlinton Town Council and owns the Clean Cow Laundromat with his wife, Jamie.
The Business of the Year – Pocahontas Memorial Hospital – was announced by chamber vice-president Ben Wilfong.
The first hospital in Pocahontas County was completed in 1906 and was the 16th hospital to be licensed in the state of West Virginia. In 1926, a group of citizens were successful in getting the hospital designated as a memorial hospital in honor of the men and women who served in World War I.
“The hospital has overcome many adverse events,” Wilfong said. “The original structure was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the 1930s. In the early 1980s, the hospital was again facing financial problems due to smaller county population, easier access to other hospitals, a high turnover rate of doctors in the area and improved medical procedures that required less time in the hospital.”
In 1985, as flood waters rushed through the town of Marlinton, the hospital took on water in the basement and on the first floor. The devastation of the flood led the community to fight for a new hospital to be built out of the floodplain.
“While some opposed the move, construction began on the new Pocahontas Memorial Hospital,” Wilfong said. “It was a labor of love for both supportive community members and hospital employees who forfeited money from their own paychecks to help build the new facility.”
The new hospital opened in October 1995. Less than three months later, Marlinton once again suffered from a flood. The old hospital was flooded – this time, beyond repair.
In its 110 years of operation, the hospital has contributed greatly to the economy of Pocahontas County.
“The hospital directly employs one hundred, four-five individuals with an annual payroll of more than eight million dollars in Pocahontas County,” Wilfong said. “The total indirect impact to the community is even that much more. The presence of the hospital can impact the overall community economic activity. It helps strengthen the ability to have a continuous care center. It can help increase attractions of a community to attracting individuals to move into our county and come to the county for recreational purposes.
“The difficulty suffered cannot take away from over a hundred years of service given by this institution and its wonderful staff,” he continued. “One constant through the years has been the love and support the community members and employees have had, and continue to have, for Pocahontas Memorial Hospital.”
The award was accepted by PMH CEO Barbara Lay, radiology supervisor Cheryl Cain, lab supervisor Kathy Irvine, diabetes educator Terry Wagner and PMH board members Freda Jackson and Cathy Mosesso.
After the awards, Division of Tourism Commissioner Amy Goodwin, gave a presentation on how West Virginia is a leader in marketing itself as a travel destination.
Last year, Goodwin said the Division of Tourism went to the House and Senate to request an increase in its funding. The increase was a way to ensure even more tourists would visit the great Mountain State.
“Travel and tourism are leaders in jobs and in investment in the state of West Virginia,” Goodwin said. “We didn’t just go to the House and the Senate and say, ‘hey, y’all, could you give us more money because we’re super fun people and we’ll do really great stuff with it.’ We came with research. We had to prove our worth because for years, the travel and tourism industry – this is an opinion, not fact – we pitched ourselves as the fun people, as the music people, as the food people, as the outdoor adventure people, we’re the fun folks. We are, but we’re the money folks and this is an incredibly lucrative adventure for the state of West Virginia.”
The research showed that for every dollar spent on marking and advertising campaigns, the state would get a return of seven dollars. With the funding in pocket, the Division of Tourism did research and found new ways to market the state.
First, it took away the obvious images. When you think of West Virginia, you think mountains. So instead of using the same photographs of beautiful West Virginia mountains, Goodwin and her team decided to show what else there is to experience in the state.
“People know one thing about West Virginia, across the board – it’s mountains,” she said. “We don’t need to tell them that. Do I need to tell anybody in the room what a can of Coke looks like? It looks like what? – red with script lettering. So it told us, ‘hey you have a good thing and you reign supreme. Nobody can beat you in that image. Your image is superior as an outdoor destination. You don’t need to tell people that. What people don’t know about you – which just shocked me when we got this research back – was that people don’t know there’s lot of things to see and do here in West Virginia.”
In order to market the numerous things to see and do in the state, Goodwin said they continue to use the old standbys of newspapers and magazines, but the number one way to get information to potential visitors is digitally.
“If you own a business in the state of West Virginia – large or small – if you are in the travel and tourism industry, if you own a salon, if you own a music shop, you better get with it,” she said. “Digital is the way to go. If you don’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, if you don’t Snapchat, if you don’t Periscope, ask a Millennial. It’s where it’s going.”
Millennials – anyone born after the year 1980 – are the number one age group that is traveling, according to Goodwin’s research.
“Right now, Millennials are the fastest growing travel population we have,” she said. “They’re spending money on travel. They’re not spending money on ‘stupid stuff’ like we spend on, like ‘let’s buy big cars. Let’s buy big houses.’ Who does that? Not these smart guys. They’re saying, ‘no, I want experiences.’”
In a time when the economy is struggling, Goodwin said it’s important to focus on the jobs and businesses that work and in West Virginia, those are jobs and businesses driven by tourism.
“In Pocahontas County, you have over one thousand jobs that we attribute to [tourism],” she said. “In the state of West Virginia, we have forty-six thousand jobs and about four point nine billion dollars of revenue. So, if I told you we had a business in West Virginia that was going to bring in forty-six thousand jobs and have somewhere close to five billion dollars, you would say, ‘let’s do anything we can to make it happen and to grow that business. Well you did; you did it through your house and your senate and we thank you for it.”
Goodwin shared copies of the West Virginia travel guide, reminded everyone to like Wild, Wonderful West Virginia on Facebook and to download the App.
Also speaking at the dinner was Peggy Hawse, Regional Coordinator for Senator Joe Manchin. Hawse shared greetings from Manchin and thanked the Chamber for its continued support of the businesses in Pocahontas County.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at email@example.com