CHARLESTON – As a way to increase the state’s economy, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) has added a new division focused on developing businesses related to agriculture.
The new division, Agriculture Business Development, was announced by Kent Leonhardt, the West Virginia agriculture commissioner, as a part of the WVDA under the direction of the executive division.
The new division will focus on helping agriculture businesses grow in the state and provide tools and strategies to these industries. It will also allow for agriculture to be looked at a key business industry in West Virginia, providing support to individuals looking to start new agriculture businesses or expand existing agriculture companies in the state.
“Agriculture is a huge industry especially in this country and he (Leonhardt) saw the need to create a Business Development Hub within the department to help these agriculture industries grow in this state because they have huge opportunities,” Crescent Gallagher, communications director at the WVDA told The West Virginia Record.
The opportunities that Gallagher is referring to are a result of the disparity of food consumed in the state and how much it actually produces for use.
“We only produce about $1 billion of food a year,” said Gallagher. “We consume from $6 to $7 billion. There’s a gap right there of $5 to $6 billion that we have to ship from out of state and that’s a food safety issue and it’s also room for us to grow our industries and provide locally the food that we consume.”
In West Virginia, the growth of agriculture could be a huge opportunity for the state that is fighting a budget deficit as its mainstay industries such as coal are on the decline. This would provide the opportunity for the state to diversify its economy as well as create new jobs and a new tax revenue stream for the state.
“There’s just a great opportunity for us to grow these industries,” said Gallagher. “Agriculture is one of the tools we can use to diversify our economy, bring new jobs, and a new tax base to the state.”
As part of the announcement of the new Agriculture Business Development Division, the WVDA is on the hunt for a new director of Agriculture Business Development to oversee the division. Three assistants will be appointed to work under the new director of Agriculture Business Development with responsibilities for its Marketing, Development, and Veterans to Agriculture programs.
“The idea is for all three to work together as a business development hug and create help for our existing agriculture businesses,” said Gallagher.
Also, part of the new division announcement is the restructuring of the Communications and Marketing divisions. The Agriculture Business Development division will now house Marketing as well as Veterans Development as subdivisions under it. Communications will become separate from the Marketing Division.
With the Agriculture Business Development division, the WVDA will allow for oversight of programs such as Agri-Business Development, Farmers’ Market Development, Veterans to Agriculture Programs Development, Food Distribution Program, West Virginia Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, International and Domestic Marketing Programming, and the GHP/GAPP Audit Program.