111: Coalfield Development – Unlocking Appalachian Potential

Brandon Dennison grew up in the small town of Ona, West Virginia. After graduating high school, like many others, he had his sights set on leaving West Virginia to pursue a career elsewhere. Upon attending Shepherd University, Brandon began helping with a Presbyterian church and started traveling around the state. While leading the church’s youth group, Brandon credits these years as being a very eye-opening time for him. Brandon was able to see, firsthand, what kind of injustices people faced in the state.

It wasn’t until graduate school that Brandon was introduced to the term “Social Enterprise.” He explained the beauty of a social enterprise model and how it was so easily adapted to the idea of Coalfield Development. Social enterprise blends a profitably viable business model with the nonprofit world, creating a great opportunity to build a company that is not only financially sustainable, but offers a path to help people in the state overcome many of the obstacles they face.

“The challenges we need to help people overcome in our state are even greater than I realized.” – Brandon Dennison

Brandon spent his second year of graduate school thinking outside of the box and developing the business plan that would later become Coalfield Development. Brandon talks about the complications of building a business in a state like West Virginia naming things like shipping costs and online commerce as specific hurdles you have to overcome to get things off the ground. Brandon’s vision for Coalfield Development is more than just to create jobs in Appalachia, it is to provide a path to self-fulfillment and personal growth as well. Hearing Brandon’s enthusiasm when talking about the prospect of helping team members and giving them the tools to create things they’re proud of is very inspirational.

“When I was younger I wanted to leave, but when I was away I wanted to get back.”

It’s easy to invest too much in the common narrative of Appalachia that tells younger generations they have to leave the mountains in order to pursue a life with substance. Brandon Dennison and Coalfield Development are a huge example of why that isn’t the case. With his sights originally set on leaving West Virginia, Brandon’s decision to ultimately stay in Appalachia has produced a company that has changed the lives of countless families in the state. It was a great privilege to speak with such an ambitious and motivated person, and to be reminded that great things often start as just ideas, but with the right drive, we can produce incredible things and make Appalachia an amazing home for entrepreneurs.