PINEVILLE - From a disaster - a tragedy seemingly of biblical proportions in some areas and one that nobody in Wyoming County who went through it will forget - a great program has risen.
The Wyoming County Economic Development Association, and its successful loan program, has reached new heights, recently going over $9 million in loans at the end of the June 30 fiscal year.
It all started early in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 8, 2001, when 11 inches of rain fell in four hours, and left all but three county communities under water. Some called it the 1,000-year flood. R.D. Bailey Lake raised 31 feet from the downpour.
The county was devastated.
Out of that tragedy came a program that has not just grown, but has expanded to a regional and even statewide entity.
"When the floods happened in 2001, that was when we received our funding," Wyoming County EDA Executive Director Christy Laxton said. "That was when we started with our $15,000 micro loans (small business loans) to help people get back on their feet. We started giving those in the fall of 2001 and into early 2002. That's really where all of this started."
Consider this: The funding started back in 2001-2002 with about $3 million. It has gone up to the $9 million mark, a statistic that is remarkable for the program, which does not specialize singularly on business loans.
The Wyoming County EDA has several other purposes, including bringing business into the county to help stimulate the growth. An example is the new Industrial Park at Tralee.
"I think that is what makes us stand out," Laxton said. "We are unique in that we serve many roles, not just our loan program. But we are very proud of the program. Our loan committee has been awesome and our board of directors is top notch. We are very proud of our little office."
The business savvy goes to new heights when you take into consideration that no "new" monies have really come into the program since about 2007, meaning the program, made up of four separate loan programs combined, is fully revolving.
"We are definitely proud of that fact," Laxton said. "I think that really shows just how successful this program has been."
With businesses fully invested and paying back the initial loans, other businesses are able to take advantage of the program. That success rate can't be overstated.
And the success has been noticed. The loan program was soon expanded to six other southern West Virginia counties - Boone, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, Mercer and Mingo.
No all applications are approved.
"We don't approve every one of the applications we get, but we do accept all applications and submit them to the loan committee," Laxton said.
Laxton, who will mark her 18th year with the Wyoming County EDA in November, said between Jan. 1 and now they have received 55 loan contacts and 19 loan applications. Of those, 10 have been approved for loans totaling $450,000, a mark that put the EDA's total loans over the years at just over $9,165,000.
Of the 10 loans, four were Wyoming County businesses, four were in Kanawha County, one in Monroe and one in McDowell.
The program has been successful in stepping in where traditional lenders could not. Many banks will not approve loans for start-up businesses.
"We can fill the gaps between a traditional lender and a business," Laxton said. "We have seen instances where we were able to be there with a down payment to help those start-up businesses."
The success stories have grown.
One of the early loans went to the Ashland Resort in McDowell County. It is still around today, serving as a resort and campground for the Hatfield and McCoy Trails.
Laxton said the EDA still has SWEEP loans available, (Southern West Virginia Energy Efficiency Program) and the funding on that program for businesses has increased from $20,000 to $33,000.
Laxton, 37, a Wyoming East and Concord graduate, was named a Young Outstanding West Virginian and was also inducted into the Wyoming East Softball Hall of Fame earlier this year.