The Southern Upshur Business Association speaker for this week's dinner was a businessman who moved to West Virginia 40 years ago with his wife, child, $1,500 and no job.
Kent Spellman is now the executive director of West Virginia Community Development HUB. Since he moved to West Virginia, he created his own job by starting or buying various businesses. He said he never wants to leave the state.
Spellman said that West Virginia was ranked lowest in the United States for the fourth consecutive time on a well-being or happiness index measured by a poll. He said he came across the information in a recent New York Times article.
"Poor West Virginia came in last. I chose to live in West Virginia," Spellman said. "I came here of my own volition 40 years ago. I have no intention of leaving. I'm here because I love it here because there are values here that I cherish."
Spellman said he doesn't think the poll casters are asking the right questions. He said they should be asking how much West Virginians value family, how close citizens are to their families, how tied citizens are to the flora and fauna around them, how committed citizens are to their community and to what degree citizens look after their neighbors.
"West Virginians would score pretty well there if they asked those questions," Spellman said. "I don't buy this 'last in anything' for West Virginia. There's something special about West Virginia."
Spellman said he believes the key to building a stronger economy is through small businesses. He refers to it as community-based economic development, the building of businesses that are based in the state and provide jobs within the state, are sustainable within the state and also keep the profits generated through the business in the state.
Spellman also calls it wealth creation. It's not just financial wealth, but all kinds of wealth from financial to intellectual, social and environmental.
He said it would be better to bring in 50 smaller, locally owned businesses that each create 10 jobs than to bring in one box company that creates 500 jobs.
"Today's economy relies on communities that will focus on building those alternative types of wealth," Spellman said.
"People bring businesses to places where they want to live."
Spellman said that local retailers return 52 percent of their revenue to the local economy, whereas national chain retailers only return 14 percent. He said local restaurants recirculate an average of 79 percent of their revenue to the local economy, compared to only 30 percent for restaurant chains.
"Think about where you're spending your money," Spellman said. "Think about who you're supporting. It doesn't work unless consumers are going to support it."
Regardless of whether the cost of an item is less at a chain store than a local store, Spellman said he challenges people to stop thinking about the few extra dollars that it would cost, and to think instead about the benefit it would bring to the community.