WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., Sept. 11, 2017 — West Liberty University supports the community with a strong focus on entrepreneurship. Its entrepreneurship majors enjoy the resources of the West Liberty University Center for Entrepreneurship, a division of the Gary E. West College of Business. Over the years, the center has developed a reputation as a catalyst for new business opportunity in the region and throughout the state of West Virginia, bringing entrepreneurial speakers to campus and supporting new business ventures with advice, connections, and even incubator space. It also helps entrepreneurs find funding for new ventures through its annual Pitch Contest and its association with the West Virginia Business Plan Competition. A minor is also available for both business and non-business majors.
Recently, Hilltopper alumnus, Dave McFarland ’02, was featured in an article, written by reporter Linda Harris and published in the State Journal. It looked at West Virginia cities that support new businesses. Below is a portion of that article.
5 W.Va. Cities Score Among Best Small Cities to Start a Business
After commuting to Pittsburgh every workday for 12 years only to be laid off from his research job, Dave McFarland jumped head-first into the realm of entrepreneurship: He opened a gourmet popcorn shop in downtown Wheeling, a fun business model he’d discovered during his working-for-someone-else days in the Steel City.
McFarland, who had an MBA he never used in his back pocket, said he was surprised — not by all the planning that goes into a successful small business, but at how easy it was to get to the starting line.
“Everybody in Wheeling, administration wise, was super-supportive,” said McFarland, who won an entreprenurial pitch contest at West Liberty University in March 2015. “They were very helpful; I had no problems dealing with anybody in city administration. I was kind of shocked by that. I really expected more difficulty and delays to happen, but we had a date we wanted to open and we were able to open on that date. From (working with) the landlord and getting inside, to getting it renovated and (equipment in place), all the licensing approvals … I was surprised at how easy it was. It seems like it should have been harder.”
And years ago it would have. But that was before city officials used their status as one of West Virginia’s original “Home Rule” cities to reduce all the red tape involved in starting a new business. The new, entrepreneur-friendly system starts with applicants completing a preliminary questionnaire and business license assessment sheet: A step-by-step, let-us-help-you-cut-through-the-bureaucracy that includes a departmental sign-off sheet plus 10 questions the applicants answer to accelerate the application process, along with tax information and the actual new business permit application.
“The city reduced the number of permits required,” said Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce President Erikka Storch. “Streamlining the process reduced a lot of the red tape for people who previously were intimidated by the process. We have a lot of good resources: The Wheeling Convention & Visitors Bureau, Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., the Chamber and the Regional Economic Development Partnership. We all partner together on various projects and share information.”
All that has helped Wheeling become one of WalletHub’s “Best Small Cities to Start a New Business,” which ranked 1,261 small cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000. WalletHub, a personal finance website, compared business environment, access to resources and business costs to determine the best — and worst — for starting new businesses.
The results: West Virginia had five cities ranking above 500, with Wheeling at No. 61; Huntington, 216; Morgantown, 318; Parkersburg, 417, and Charleston, 493.
“I would say it’s encouraging to see the outside world taking notice of the opportunities we have here in Wheeling,” Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “One of the things I’ve always said is the city hasn’t always been its best advocate. For example, about 15 years ago when Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe was looking for a place to do a back-office operation, they looked at about 30 different cities across the country.
“We made their Top 30, but I understand we wouldn’t have made the final cut but for the fact that the CEO at the time was from the area, and (told his people) they might want to take a closer look at what’s on the ground here because numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sure enough, now they’re here and they employ about 400 people in what used to be an old abandoned factory. It’s a real success story, one that’s emblematic of how the rest of the world doesn’t realize what we have here.”
To read the entire State Journal article on West Virginia cities in the WalletHub ranking, please click here.
McFarland’s business is located at 1057 Market Street, Wheeling and can be reached at 304.231.6064. To find out more about Mmm Popcorn or to order online, visit mmmpopcorn.com.