Thursday, July 26, 2012


By J. Mac Holladay, founder and CEO.

I had just returned from a Washington and Lee Alumni College program to my home in West Virginia. It was Friday June 29. About 7 PM a violent storm, which I later learned was a “derecho,” came across the valley to my mountain home. The winds over 80 miles an hour lasted for well over an hour. The power went out. It did not come back on for ten full days. As the temperature soared to near 100 each day our life became more and more difficult. Our small generator powered our water pump and a few outlets. We were better off than many thousands in West Virginia who had no power, no water, and no place to go. At one point over 80% of the state was without power. There was no gas as the stations had no power to turn on the pumps. Powerless is a word that comes to mind.

Derecho is a Spanish word that means straight. It is a most unusual weather pattern in the United States. The storm reached from Indiana to Pennsylvania and included all of West Virginia and most of Virginia. The damage was unprecedented for most of the region. Workers from as far away as Louisiana and New Jersey came to West Virginia, many of them veterans of tornadoes and hurricanes. They had never seen such damage or difficulty in getting to the broken poles and countless lines down. The mountains and trees of West Virginia made the work extremely slow and dangerous.

As we do our work across the country, occasionally we find a community that feels “powerless.” They are trapped in silos and seek to blame others for their reality. The sad truth is that the power is in coming together, in working as a team to overcome whatever the obstacles. After several days with no power, a yellow truck came up my driveway with a man and woman asking if we needed water and ice. It was free as a service to those in great need. They had come up our one lane gravel road (from which we had cleared 4 monster trees) well over a mile from the paved one lane state road at the foot of the mountain. They did not know us, but they came to help and asked nothing in return. That is what community is all about. None of us can ever be “powerless” with a strong caring community. That is at the core of greater prosperity and success for all of us not just in the time of crisis but every day. As I have always believed, there can be no economic development without community development. It is all about place and people there.