West Virginia University’s outdoor recreation experts are hard at work developing world-class outdoor infrastructure, expanding outdoor opportunities and using the Mountain State’s outdoor assets to advance the economy. These efforts are mission critical at the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, and now, the OEDC team is poised to broaden its efforts with the help of a change agent who’s fired up about the collaborative's work.
Andy Williamson, the newly minted director of outdoor community development for OEDC, comes with an impressive background, vast tool kit, and extensive connections in the outdoor industry. He has worked in these spaces for decades, and OEDC’s mission includes many of the same goals he’s helped countless other communities achieve before his arrival in Morgantown.
“This is about keeping our people here and bringing new people in. It’s about stopping the brain drain and improving the lives of West Virginians by transforming local economies in innovative ways,” Williamson said.
Williamson’s work has always centered on answering the question: How do we give people the access to public lands and their benefits without destroying them? He started out as the guy who might take you on a mountain bike trip or teach you how to paddle a kayak in a scenic river, but his career trajectory ultimately led him to leveraging the outdoors for community development.
He was recruited out of college to run an innovative program called Five Rivers Outdoors in Dayton, Ohio. “This whole program was based on the premise of outdoor recreation being a key economic development strategy to revitalize a dying city,” Williamson said. “I learned a ton, and that project led to my development as an advocate and a champion of the outdoors. It allowed me a seat at the table with some important people and built the foundation of confidence and leadership inside of me that I bring to West Virginia today.”
Williamson’s work in Dayton, and later in other states across the country — Idaho, Arkansas and North Carolina, to name a few — taught him how to deliver quality access to the great outdoors and to transform communities by leveraging their greatest natural assets.
He found his way to West Virginia and WVU thanks to Danny Twilley, OEDC’s assistant vice president of economic, community and asset development.
“I’ve known Andy for a long time and worked with him on a number of projects over the years. Since we launched OEDC, I knew he needed to be part of this team,” Twilley said. “He is an incredible facilitator and the person you want working with communities to objectively assess and analyze outdoor recreation infrastructure, the economic ecosystem, and the amenities in a place that contribute to making West Virginia the premier place to live, work, and play. The state, WVU and the OEDC is lucky to have him here to help us achieve long-term success.”
Williamson was familiar with the West Virginia before his arrival this summer. The state was an outdoor destination for him during his childhood and college years in Ohio and, later, during his relationship with his wife, Joni, a new faculty member in the College of Applied Human Sciences.
“I understand, first-hand, the beauty and opportunity that’s here,” Williamson said. “Our goals here aren’t just about moving dirt. They’re about bringing the right people together to do something amazing with West Virginians. I’ve never had access to the resources and support of an institution like WVU to make something like this happen, and I can’t tell you how exciting that is.”
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