OAK HILL — The largest municipality in Fayette County now has an employee in place to guide community and economic development efforts.
City Manager Bill Hannabass recently hired Erin Ellis-Reid as the city’s new Community and Economic Development Coordinator. Her first day on the job was January 3, and she was featured at a city council meeting on January 10.
Ellis-Reid previously worked as Director of Community Captains for Active Southern West Virginia. Before that, she had a background in outdoor recreation as she worked for many years at ACE Adventure Resort.
Career advancement was key in finding the new position, and she also said she embraced the notion of city government.
“I wanted to work with the city,” she says. “I am a very civic-minded person. Even before I got this job, I was one of those people who came to attend city council meetings as a resident. I’ve always been interested in working for municipal government and a municipality, just because I like that kind of politics and things like that.
Ellis-Reid grew up in Wyoming County, moved to Fayette County about 20 years ago, and has resided in Oak Hill for the past 10 years. Residency in Oak Hill was one of the requirements for the position, which pays $50,000 a year with money from the city’s general fund.
Ellis-Reid holds a Masters in Health Promotion from Concord University.
“Drawing the context of outdoor recreation, the opportunities that we want to see coming to Oak Hill in terms of business growth and things like that, and the community aspect of community health, I think any it kind of plays together,” Ellis-Reid says.
Some of her discussions with Hannabass, Mayor Danny Wright and City Council focused on “how community development and economic development kind of go together,” she said. “Obviously there are different sides to those two things.
“One of the big things that obviously a lot of people are concerned about is the national park designation, with an emphasis on outdoor recreation. The city already offers plenty of parks, we have the 7-mile rail-trail system.
“Definitely creating more outdoor recreation opportunities that can be associated with national park designation” is crucial, she said.
His office will be in the Oak Hill Railroad Depot building, likely starting next week.
While adhering to city guidelines, Ellis-Reid also says that “part of my job with community development is to understand the needs of the community and what they would like to see to help the city grow.
She realizes that finding various grants “will make up a big part of this position.”
Ellis-Reid said she has written grant applications with Active SWV and her master’s program includes detailed grant writing. She was also exposed to grant programs during her time at ACE.
She plans to seek government funding through avenues such as grant.gov and USDA funding for community development.
“There are many different organizations offering grants, not only from government and state agencies, but also from individual foundations,” Ellis-Reid said. “Sometimes you have to dig a little bit, but there is funding there.”
Ellis-Reid will keep office hours at the depot building Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and she invites community members to stop by and discuss their thoughts on community and business development. The office will also act as something similar to a CVB, she said.
“We’ll have information about local businesses, information about recreational opportunities and things like that.”
Of Oak Hill’s strengths, Ellis-Reid says, “I think the city administration and council are very forward-thinking in terms of wanting to improve and attract new business and create a stronger sense of community, and you can see it in projects that have happened in recent years’, such as Needleseye Park, the Collins disc golf course and a new basketball court in Harlem Heights. “When people are looking to bring a business to a city, they want to know what resources are available.”
One of the local weaknesses, she says, is community engagement, but “that’s one of the things we want to change.”
“I’m super excited. I’m very motivated,” she said, adding that she will use an on-the-ground kick-off strategy to meet with community and business leaders. One of the goals, she says, is “ to increase the city’s efforts to promote the businesses we have.
Hannabass said one aspect of Ellis-Reid’s work will be creating public relations videos to “help promote Oak Hill and the positive aspects of Oak Hill and all the public goods around us.” It all takes money to do this, but it’s money that there is a return on that investment.
“One of the big things is the perception of Oak Hill,” he continued. “Oak Hill is doing well financially and has always been very successful. Many of the negative perceptions about Oak Hill come from the fact that we are a population center in Fayette County.
“Like a magnet, you attract problems with the population. Drugs, homelessness and infrastructure that needs fixing. There are problems that come with larger populations.
Ellis-Reid and her husband are parents to three children, one at Oak Hill High, one at Oak Hill Middle and one at New River Intermediate.
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