Marketing Genius from Maple Creative


Marketing tips, observations & philosophy, plus a few rants and random musings - from those who practice, preach and teach marketing, research, advertising, public relations and business strategy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

W.Va. Eastern Panhandle - Creative Community Under Construction

Though I have lived in Charleston, W.Va., for the past 15 years, I was born and raised in Martinsburg, a small town in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. Before I settled in Charleston, I lived all over the eastern U.S. (during my GE days). That gives me some perspective and a basis for comparing places. Let's compare the creative community aspects between the Capital Region and the Eastern Panhandle.

For the sake of background, let's define a creative community. This post, and others like it, is presented in support of the CreateWV initiative and the Vision Shared Creative Communities Team. Basically, a creative community has a significant presence of creative sectors of the economy, such as technology, science, research, design, entrepreneurs and professional arts. But importantly, in addition, creative communities are marked by outstanding educational institutions & programs, as well as interesting, rich and inviting "third places" like parks, museums, coffee shops and galleries. Thriving, prosperous creative communities also have strong, abundant and accessible technology networks and are tolerant in nature, accepting and welcoming all types of people. For more background, check out and the CreateWV blog. And if you really want to embrace the concept, come to the Create WV Conference 2008, Oct. 20-22, at Snowshoe Mountain Resort.

Charleston is a creative community, without a doubt. Sure, it has room--and potential--for more creative growth. But there's a critical mass of creativity here. From FestivAll to Art Walk, and from the Clay Center to Mountain Stage, there's plenty to enjoy in terms of creative arts, fine arts and entertainment. But enough about Charleston. Several other bloggers will be touting creativity in the capital of the Mountain State.

Eastern Panhandle Snapshot
Let's shift our focus eastward by about 300 miles or five hours driving time. The state's Eastern Panhandle is a small, four-county region of some 175,000 residents. Geographically, statistically and economically, it is part of the huge and growing Baltimore-Washington, MSA. While Charleston is somewhat landlocked, the Eastern Panhandle lies in the midst of a very metropolitan, urbanized part of America. In fact, five other state capitals are a shorter driving distance than its own capital.

The differences don't end with geography. The terrain is different; the Eastern Panhandle is relatively flat. The media is different; the major TV networks broadcast from DC and Baltimore and the local newspapers rarely report on new from Charleston. The economy is different, too; there is no coal mining in the Eastern Panhandle. Instead of WVU and Marshall sports fandom, in the Panhandle the mantra is "Go Orioles!" or "Hail to the Redskins!"

By contrast, Martinsburg and the Eastern Panhandle is not as much of a creative community, at least not in a "boundary" sense. While there are not as many creative assets within the four-county panhandle, there are hundreds nearby. From the National Gallery of Art in Washington, to Wolf Trap (concerts and stage) in Northern Va., there is so much to enjoy within an hour's drive. Residents of the Eastern Panhandle cross borders and boundaries all the time. In fact, along one 30-mile stretch of I-81, you can cross four state borders. If you live in the Eastern Panhandle you move about--quite a bit--and things like county/state borders are less important. In that sense it's more cosmopolitan.

Building It Out
What could be improved? If I could construct a creative project in the Eastern Panhandle, I would "build" a few more quaint "third places"in Martinsburg ... maybe a place with coffee and music, an arts & crafts center (like the Lillstreet Guild in Chicago), a gallery for local artists and a high-tech incubator. Plus, I'd love to see some re-gentrification of some of the historic neighborhoods in downtown Martinsburg, perhaps some downtown lofts.

Special Place - Shepherdstown
One of the gems of the Eastern Pahnandle is Shepherdstown. This spring, I had the pleasure to spend a day in this quaint historic town. Shepherdstown, founded in 1734, is a college town, home to Shepherd University, a charming liberal-arts school. The core village in Shepherdstown aligns German Street. Many of its shops, storefronts and homes date back to the 1700's. Its picturesque beauty is highlighted by the stunning "New England-esque" chapel (former courthouse) and a centuries-old library. On top of all of this historic beauty is a palpable creative vibe.

On that warm day in late Spring, I spent hours at the Sweets Shop on German Street, working (on a free local WiFi network), sipping coffee, snacking and soaking up the creative vibe. Afterward, I browsed the village, visiting a couple art galleries, bookstores and the library. The combination of the foot traffic, college students, beauty, history and charm inspired me. In the true essence of a Creative Community "Third Place," I could have stayed there a very long time. It compelled me, and it draws me back. (By the way, Berkeley Springs is a real gem of a creative place, too, with a thriving art scene and Jeane Mozier's creative leadership.)

I still love my home region, the Eastern Panhandle. My friend and colleague, Sandy Sponaugle of Platinum PR, has the joy and privilege of living and working there. Her office is but a few steps around the corner from the aforementioned Sweets Shop and just across from that wonderful old library. I look forward to reading her perspective on the creative aspects of the Eastern Panhandle. Finally, thanks to Jason Keeling for organizing and shaping this blogger carnival in support of CreateWV and to Jeff James for his tireless, inclusive and skillful leadership of the Creative Communities Team and the CreateWV Conference.

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