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W.Va. clothing maker selling wares at MLB stadiums

April 7, 2019

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — What you buy at the ballpark can have a big impact on communities in Appalachia, according to Brandon Dennison, the founder and CEO of Coalfield Development.

Coalfield Development announced last summer that it had acquired Morgantown-based SustainU, a sustainable clothing manufacturer, and would incorporate it into its family of social enterprises.

Based in Wayne County, Coalfield Development is a nonprofit organization that operates social enterprises designed to diversify the Appalachian economy.

Last month, SustainU Clothing announced the first five Major League Baseball stadiums that will feature the @Shirt interactive kiosks. They offer fans a chance to purchase game-specific match-up graphics with customizable features for all 81 of a team’s home games in the regular season. Each graphic is only available in-venue and allows fans to uniquely commemorate their day to the ballpark with limited-edition apparel.

“All products are made in the USA from eco-friendly materials and are embellished and distributed from Coalfield Development’s newly renovated WestEdge Factory in Huntington,” Dennison said.

He said the kiosk technology will be featured in some of the most iconic baseball stadiums in the country, including the Cubs’ Wrigley Field, Dodgers Stadium, Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium and the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park.

Additional stadiums and venues will be added to the @Shirt by SustainU roster for Major League Baseball and other major sports leagues, Dennison added.

Each order placed through the @Shirt Kiosk by SustainU helps to provide education and employment in Appalachia through Coalfield Development’s 33-6-3 workforce development model. SustainU employs 16 people, while Coalfield Development has 60 crew members total across its various enterprises, according to Dennison.

“The people printing and shipping these shirts work 33 hours per week, are enrolled in community college six hours per week and are engaged in personal development three hours per week,” Dennison explained. “Our social enterprises, like SustainU, provide employment opportunities and holistic workforce development for people who need to reconnect to the economy for a variety of reasons.“At the end of last year, Coalfield Development was awarded $1 million in the Communities Thrive Challenge, a $10 million national funding opportunity by The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The organization’s application was called “Rebuilding Appalachia From the Ground Up,” and Unlimited Future Inc. in Huntington was a co-applicant for the challenge, according to Dennison.

“Because we intentionally work in socioeconomically distressed communities with broken, failed markets and institutions, much experimentation is necessary to reconfigure community and economic development interventions to be more effective; think of our enterprises like entrepreneurial laboratories,” Dennison said when the grant was announced.

“Also because of the economic brokenness of the places we serve, direct employment is a key strategy. There simply aren’t many jobs available to train people for, certainly not sustainable jobs, and so we must simultaneously create new markets and the trained workforce to employ in those markets.”

The funding will be used to strengthen the two organizations’ programs and to help 100 other communities around the Tri-State region replicate the 33-3-6 model that Coalfield has developed. The model has proven successful as 100 percent of Coalfield crew members have found jobs upon graduation.

“The main hook of our job training programs is that the work is paid, putting real wages in people’s pockets,” Dennison said. “I liked the name ‘Communities Thrive’ because so much of the time we are just trying to survive and get by, but we want to create conditions not to just survive, but to thrive and reach our full potential as a community. We are honored to be chosen for the Communities Thrive Challenge, and look forward to making our work even stronger and broader through this experience.”

Gail Patton, executive director of Unlimited Future Inc., says the two organizations began working together to develop social enterprises that provide workforce training and jobs for unemployed people while making a positive impact on tough social issues.

“Our organizations combined have directly contributed to the creation of more than 180 new businesses that employ over 425 people,” Patton said.

“We serve 23 percent racial minorities in places with 5 percent to 7 percent minority total populations. The Communities Thrive Challenge will give us the chance to learn from other innovative companies all across the nation and to teach other communities how to replicate our model.”

“By working together to invest in local solutions, we can build an America where all people can earn enough to support their families, achieve financial security and provide their children with greater opportunity,” said Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation.

For more information on Coalfield Development’s approach to building a new Appalachian economy, visit www.Coalfield-Development.org .


Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com