Pam Farris, the executive director of the statewide program, gave the keynote speech at the annual Chamber of Commerce awards dinner March 16. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

Leadership West Virginia director outlines statewide program’s capacity to change lives

BUCKHANNON – The executive director of Leadership West Virginia congratulated Upshur County’s first graduating class of Leadership Upshur.  

Pam Farris, the executive director of the statewide program, gave the keynote speech at the annual Chamber of Commerce awards dinner March 16.

“I want to congratulate this new Leadership Upshur class; I’m so excited for you because what you’re getting to do is be the inaugural class for this community, and that’s so important,” Farris said. “What you’re experiencing and what you’re going to be able to take back to your workplace and to your community and to the Chamber for getting this started is just a wonderful opportunity.”

Leadership West Virginia aims to connect and work with leaders to help move West Virginia forward.

“Why does our program exist? It’s professional development, it’s learning about the state, it’s there for employers to invest in their employees,” Farris said. “It’s a professional development program, and we are there to share those experiences with the people, and we were started by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce in 1991.”

Over 1,500 people have attended the program over the last 32 years.

“Just pause for a minute and imagine an experience of expanding your personal life, expanding your personal network, and being exposed to the best of what West Virginia has to offer, as well as some of those issues and problems that we all need to tackle,” Farris said. “Think about taking that and traveling around the state for seven months – only two days in a month, but seven months – focused on discussions of key issues with topic experts.”

The statewide program encompasses all of West Virginia, and many communities like Upshur County have their own programs. Farris said both local and state-level programs aim to be eye-opening.

“We heighten awareness and sensitivity through fresh insight and perspectives, and we develop a core of knowledgeable, dedicated and motivated individuals who undertake a variety of leadership roles,” Farris said. “We build a statewide network of alumni. I heard two graduates of Leadership West Virginia tonight talking about a business opportunity who didn’t know each other at the time, and now they know each other and are working together.”

The statewide program brings its participants to seven different locations, including Huntington, the New River Gorge area, the Eastern Panhandle, Morgantown, Lewisburg and Charleston.

“Those communities welcome these 55 to 60 leaders from around the state to get to know their community, and that’s important,” Farris said. “We look at topics that are important to you as a participant and our state, such as your leadership capacity. We focus on energy, manufacturing, and economic development, and we have an education session, we have a health care session, [sessions focused on] tourism and justice system, and then we finish in Charleston with our government session.”

Their 2023 session has received more applications than any prior year.

“That’s a really great and a really hard problem to have because there were some wonderful candidates who we just couldn’t accept because of the sheer volume of applicants,” Farris said. “It was a tough decision, but we have a committee of board members that make that decision.”

The incoming class was announced in January, and the sessions will kick off in May.

“It’s a tuition-based program, so you will pay tuition to be a part of the program; we have some scholarships, but tuition in 2023 is $3,300, which pays for all of those two days each month that you’re traveling with us, and you are also responsible for your overnight stays, so it’s pretty big investment,” Farris said. “It’s a great return on investment if you take advantage of what you’re getting exposed to and all the opportunities you have.”

Farris emphasized that the network alumni of the program can access and later tap into the knowledge gained about the state of West Virginia.

“You get to build a network of colleagues around the state that you can tap into and call and ask for help, or you can help them,” Farris said. “You learn so much about our state, so many things in your own community and beyond … the Eastern Panhandle is a lot different than it is here in our area and in Charleston, so it’s a great opportunity to truly know about the ins and outs of our state.”

Earlier in the evening, Chamber of Commerce dinner emcee Robbie Skinner credited local business owner Michael Ruffing, president and CEO of Problem Solver’s Consultants for his instrumental role in jumpstarting the Leadership Upshur program in 2022.

You can learn more about Leadership West Virginia by visiting its website.

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