For the last nine years, Ashley Alford, president of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, has devoted her career to making her home county a better place.
After graduating in May of 2010 from West Virginia University with a degree in public relations and a minor in business administration, Alford returned to Putnam County to pursue an internship with the Chamber of Commerce. By August of that year, she'd been offered a full-time position as communications director.
Now, in her role of Chamber president, no two days are the same - and she likes it that way.
"I love Putnam County and the community that we have here," said Alford, who grew up in Hurricane. "The most exciting part of this job is getting to work with the businesses and help them. We have a really strong entrepreneurial culture here, and so we have a lot of small and locally owned businesses."
In June of this year, Alford cut the ceremonial ribbons for six new and expanding businesses.
"We get to start with some of [the businesses] from the idea stage and go with them through their opening," Alford said. "For others, we get to celebrate their grand opening and go from there. Either way, it's really exciting to see someone chase a dream of theirs and be able to offer a new product or service to our residents here."
In a state that statistically has a steadily decreasing population, Putnam County is one of the few counties that has seen recent, consistent growth, which has, in turn, helped its economy.
"Everyone talks about people leaving the state of West Virginia, but we're really fortunate that people are always moving here," Alford said.
From smaller businesses to corporate expansions, Alford said the county has seen an increase in opportunity, which has attracted more residents.
"Whether they're coming from other states for jobs or coming from other counties because they want to live in a more residential area, we're always seeing population and business growth," Alford said. "Toyota announced another expansion, and they're our No. 1 employer. They're a great advocate for our community and we really enjoy working with them."
In an effort to better acquaint business owners with the community they serve, Alford hosts several episodes per month of "Destination Putnam," a video series in which she chauffeurs local business owners around the county and interviews them in a James Cordon-esque fashion.
"When I shoot Destination Putnam, I always ask people what their favorite part of Putnam County is, and they always say, 'the people,'" Alford said. "Everything from our small business owners to our large companies that employ the majority of our people. Everyone is just really kind and fun to work with."
As for the "amazing" things happening in Putnam County, Alford said she's enjoyed being along for the ride. She said she's particularly enjoyed watching Hurricane's previously bare Main Street transform into a bustling home for three restaurants, an artisan center and several specialty boutiques and shops.
"We work really hard to make sure that all of our members are represented and that people know who they are and what they have to offer to our community," Alford said.
When it comes to supporting local businesses, Alford practices what she preaches. She worked diligently to source the majority of her own wedding vendors and supplies from her home county.
"When Jacob and I decided to get married, we had a conversation about where we were going to get married, and it was a no-brainer," she said. "We live here, and we love living here. It was really fun to get to work with [the vendors], and I didn't have to micromanage. I know the quality of their work, and I trusted them to make my wedding dreams come true."
From specialty shops and eclectic restaurants to healthcare resources and recreational family-friendly activities, Alford said Putnam County has a little something for everyone.
"We have everything we could possibly need here - you just have to look outside the box," Alford said.
To stay updated on upcoming events and news in Putnam County, visit www.putnamchamber.org.