Q: Give us the quick and dirty on Coalfield Development Corp.

A: Coalfield Corp. is a family of five social enterprises. We are trying to diversify West Virginia’s economy. West Virginia is completely defined economically, politically and culturally by coal, and that has made us vulnerable. There are a lot of different opportunities here, so Coalfield is purposely scattered across several of them: green-collar construction, agriculture, solar, arts, and environmental rehabilitation. We want to show the possibility of diversity by being diverse ourselves.

Q: How did you find your way into community development through social enterprise?

A: I was born and raised in West Virginia. Even before the bottom of the coal industry fell out in 2015, West Virginia had some of the highest unemployment and poverty in the country. It’s deep generational poverty that gets passed down, [starting with] low-income people who can’t find steady employment, who are now facing mental health issues.

Q: All we seem to hear is that rural America needs more jobs.

A: When you talk to employers in West Virginia, many have jobs available and want to expand, but their number one barrier is workforce development.

When we started our construction enterprise in 2012, we realized that work ethic wasn’t the problem, and there were plenty of skills. It was life stuff that was getting in the way. Mental and emotional stress. Financial stress. Transport problems. Health problems. Legal problems. West Virginia leads the country in overdose deaths right now.

Read the full interview with Brandon Dennison on workforce development in West Virginia by Jessica Pothering at ImpactAlpha