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Young West Virginians discuss their startups at West Virginia Good Jobs Conference

By MATT COMBS

The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — The first-ever West Virginia Good Jobs Conference brought some of the state’s most forward-thinking minds to Tamarack Tuesday and three of those minds didn’t have to travel too far to speak.

Attendees seek out others they didn’t travel with or previously know to share ideas during an activity as part of a West Virginia Good Jobs Conference session called “Putting Public Policy to Work for Economic Development” led by Stephen Smith with the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition Tuesday afternoon at Tamarack.
(Register-Herald photo by Brad Davis)

“If you look at what’s going on here, the folks that you see here, you see a whole bunch of people a lot younger than me,” said Earl Gohl, the Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, who was the events keynote speaker.

“West Virginia has a whole cadre of young folks very engaged in their community,” Gohl continued. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in Princeton, or if it’s Williamson, if it’s Huntington, if it’s Wheeling, if it’s Rainelle or if it’s Charleston, every one of these communities has something going on.”

One of the sessions for the event brought together some of those individuals from right here in Raleigh and Fayette counties.

Dwane Muncy, of Cucumber & Company in Beckley, Aryn Fonda of Weathered Ground Brewery in Cool Ridge, and Daniel Harding of Top Knot Coffee and Artisan Shop in Oak Hill, spoke to those interested in opening a business about their experience in the endeavor.

Muncy was the veteran of the bunch, starting his web design and video production company in 2003 and naming it Cucumber, the small village in McDowell County where he first opened his business.

“Trust me, any entrepreneur in this area is in better shape already just not being in Cucumber, West Virginia,” Muncy joked.

Muncy said that his company manages between 150 and 160 websites currently and produces 30 to 40 videos per month with 11 employees.

The owner said that his biggest challenge over his nearly 15 years in business has been finding the right workflow.

Muncy said that as an owner and a manager you must stay on top of daily tasks and daily direction, or that the consequence would be a product that you as the owner do not want.

Harding launched Top Knot in April of this year, with a combined effort to brew great coffee and sell alpaca based products.

“We are an alpaca-themed coffee shop,” Harding said. “I’m sure you don’t see many of those.”

Harding is also co-partners with his parents on an alpaca farm and, although the coffee shop was his brainchild, he wanted to blend the two endeavors together.

When asked what was his biggest challenge in opening, Harding didn’t tell the audience that selling an alpaca-themed coffee shop was the greatest difficulty, he said that selling the idea of any business in downtown Oak Hill was the biggest challenge.

“I chose to start my business in Oak Hill even though some people call me crazy,” Harding said.

Harding told the audience that one of his goals is to prove that a business can survive in Oak Hill and even thrive.

The coffee shop owner said that he prides himself on the community and hopes to see Oak Hill as a walking downtown once again.

While a greater sense of community may be one mission for Harding, a sense of taking care of his family is a greater personal source of inspiration.

“I’ve been with restaurant management my entire adult career,” Harding said. “You put in a lot of time, a lot of effort. With me stepping out and becoming a personal business owner the reward was that I’m putting 100 percent effort and seeing at the end of the day what is benefiting me and my family a little bit more than a paycheck.”

Weathered Ground is the newest establishment featured; the brewery first opened its doors along U.S. 19 in the Cool Ridge area in August and although new to business, Fonda agreed with Harding’s sentiment on forging your own path.

“You take such a leap, such a risk, such stressful nights getting ready for that to open and when it does, it’s like your everything, your child, everything you’ve ever wanted,” Fonda said.

The new brewery owner was raised near Cool Ridge, but after college and law school she found herself working in a law firm in Charlotte.

She wasn’t happy and when she had her first child two years ago she wanted to be closer to family.

Along with her husband, who was already a brewer in North Carolina, Fonda packed up and moved north in search of opportunity.

 The couple, along with Fonda’s father, searched for a location to open their own brewery in the locations one in southern West Virginia might immediately think about for a brewery, Lewisburg and Fayetteville, but weren’t inspired to build in those locations.

Fonda told the crowd that those towns had already built their own character, and on a whim, the team explored Cool Ridge, near where the West Virginia woman had grown up.

The Fondas would go on to purchase an old family farm, from whence the name Weathered Ground came from, and set down to building a unique West Virginia brewery.

Opening in August, Fonda said that they were already reinvesting in the brewery, purchasing more brewing equipment and a brick oven so that they can serve food to their guests.

Fonda said that she also envisions her brewery as being a community gathering place.

“There’s just not that many places in southern West Virginia where you can drag your kids out and let them run around while you have something to eat or enjoy a beer or a non-alcoholic beverage,” Fonda said.

She added that her biggest challenge was knowing when to let go of the business side of life.

She told the audience of potential business owners that knowing how to balance the work life and the personal life, especially when working with family, is key.

According to Muncy, what owning a business all boils down to is setting out on a mission and maybe becoming a little profitable along the way.

“It’s just nice to have a plan that works,” Muncy said. “Maybe that’s all we’re in the hunt for. A plan that you have that actually floats. I’m not saying that there’s not 40 holes in the boat, but at least it is sort of floating, enough to keep the people out of the water.”

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH

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