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Improving West Virginia’s economy is focus of March 18 summit

ISSUED: 9 February 2017
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — The Shepherd University M.B.A. program is hoping a daylong summit it’s sponsoring will provide guidance on how West Virginia can pull itself out of the current economic crisis. The summit, Re-Inventing West Virginia: Respecting the Heritage and Realizing the Future, will take place Saturday, March 18, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. in the Frank Center Theater. The cost to attend is $39.

Keynote speakers will be Dr. Linton Wells II, managing partner of Wells Analytics, LLC and a former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Patrick Morrisey, attorney general of West Virginia. The event will offer four one-hour long forums that will address specific topics relevant to economic growth in the state—energy, education and technology, tourism, and marketing.

“This is an opportunity to take a day to dig more deeply into issues that impact the state’s economy,” said Dr. Chip Zimmer, assistant professor of business administration and M.B.A. Graduate Program coordinator.

Energy’s Role in Reinventing West Virginia will be facilitated by Fred. T. White, senior director, public sector of ABS Consulting in Arlington, Virginia. This forum will explore how the state can safely use its energy resources to grow the economy and help improve the state’s image. Panelists will be John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University; Chris Hamilton, executive vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association; and Scott Freshwater, president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia.

“Energy has been such an integral part of the history and the economy of the state,” Zimmer said. “We want to figure out how we can move forward because coal is not going to be where it has been historically, natural gas has grown, and renewable energy has grown. We need to figure out how we can meld all those together.”

Education and Technology’s Role in Reinventing West Virginia, facilitated by Dr. Mary J.C. Hendrix, president of Shepherd University, will look at how the state can better educate its workforce and improve its technology infrastructure. Panelists will be Dr. Michael Hieb, research associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia; Robert Chuey, managing partner at LSP Data in Washington, D.C.; and Chris Kyle, vice president for industry affairs at Shentel in Charles Town.

Tourism’s Role in Reinventing West Virginia, facilitated by Rick Pill, an attorney with Pill and Pill, PLLC, will explore how West Virginia can strengthen and develop its tourism industry. Panelists will be Stephen Hilliard, CEO of Oglebay Resort in Wheeling; Sarah Guyette, marketing manager at Snowshoe Resort in Pocahontas County; and Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

“Tourism is a big piece of the state’s economy and could be bigger,” Zimmer said. “Tourism has historically provided jobs, but they’ve been entry-level and seasonal jobs. So the question is—how can we work with tourism and develop better jobs and better income for the state?”

Marketing’s Role in Reinventing West Virginia will be facilitated by Jim Lees, an attorney with Hunt & Lees, LC, in Charleston. This forum will address how West Virginia can enhance its image and better promote what it has to offer. Panelists will include Susan Lavenski, CEO/owner of Charles Ryan Associates, Charleston; Dan McGinn, CEO of McGinn and Company of Arlington, Virginia; and Rex Repass, CEO of Repass Research of Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We’re wild, wonderful West Virginia and we just don’t tell our story very well,” Zimmer said. “West Virginians, wherever they go, are often proud of their state. We’re trying to see how we can take advantage of that pride and maybe start a West Virginia proud campaign.”

During the final session, Repositioning West Virginia’s Future, Dr. Gordon DeMeritt, associate professor of business administration at Shepherd, will lead a discussion on the innovative, outside-the-box ideas generated in the four forums and will address the question of what’s next.

“We’ll hopefully identify problems and some potential solutions,” Zimmer said. “But this is going to be an ongoing process. There should be a summit every year that takes the next step from what we discover and recommend this year.”

Once the forum is finished, five students in Shepherd’s M.B.A. program will produce a white paper through Shepherd’s Center for Regional Innovation that will go to all the participants and be posted online. Zimmer said it’s hoped the paper will provide a roadmap for the next summit.

For out-of-town attendees, the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Shepherdstown is offering a special room rate. The deadline to reserve a room is February 17.

For more information about the summit, visit or contact Zimmer at

Listen to the interview HERE.

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