Listening and learning
HUNTINGTON — The eyes and ears of members of a state legislative committee were tuned in to local small-business owners Monday evening during the latest stop on a statewide listening tour at Marshall University.
More than 100 people filed into the Shawkey Dining Room in the Memorial Student Center to talk about successes and struggles in running a business to members of the House Committee on Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, led by House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison.
Local small-business owners told some stories of personal success, but many shared concerns about trends and regulations they said make West Virginia an off-putting place to start and even maintain a business.
The first stop in the tour took place last week in Clarksburg, and Miley said the goal of the tour was to hear about what was and was not working for small business owners in the state.
“We believe unless we focus on small business, entrepreneurship and growth, it won’t happen,” Miley said. “Part of the process is to go out and learn, in a meaningful way, what we can do to help you with your small business and with your entrepreneurship and the passion surrounding that.”
Several business owners offered praise for the state-affiliated West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, a venture capital firm that was founded in 1992.
Marshall student Ricky Kirkendall is the founder of Campaignr, which produces Raisin, software that offers cloud-based solutions for fundraising to non-profit organizations, family foundations, endowments, religious institutions, small enterprises and political campaigns.
He said the trust made a difference in getting the company off of the ground.
“J.I.T. has been very big asset to us,” Kirkendall said. “The capital access was just what we needed to actually do a little more market research for an idea and turn it into a viable product.”
Jeff McKay said he didn’t have to go far from his day job as a professor at Marshall to attend the meeting, but he said he would have gone a long way to share his feelings about regulations on the beer brewing industry.
McKay also owns The Tap House, a craft beer tap room, at Heritage Station in downtown Huntington, and he said West Virginia’s restrictions make it a legal and financial hassle for those who are interested in brewing or distributing in the state.
“This used to be an industry in West Virginia,” McKay said. “This used to be something we were proud of. There used to be brewing in West Virginia and in Huntington itself. We have old industrialized space in West Virginia. What can you do with that industrial space? You can build breweries. If you want to bring manufacturing back, industry back in West Virginia, why wouldn’t you facilitate this by loosening regulation in West Virginia?”
Levi Hogan owns Roll-A-Rama skating rink on 7th Avenue, and he said it’s his goal to provide a place where local children can go to have fun and be safe, but he said all of his profits are being eaten up by state taxes.
“I’m trying to do what I can to help these kids out,” Hogan said. “Where do I get help? Where do I go to get my tax break? Where is my incentive to carry on? I’m here listening tonight to hope someone says something that will help me.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the event was a good way for local business owners to share their thoughts with legislators, saying it was mutually beneficial for the legislators as well as the business owners.
“This is a home run,” Williams said. “You have 25 legislators from all over the state and other senators and delegates that aren’t on this committee here. First, they get to know what we’re trying to do. Second, they get to know Marshall University. Third, they are in Huntington, and that’s a home run.”
Follow Reporter Lacie Pierson on Twitter, @LaciePiersonHD.
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