Reverend buys canoe factory to create employment and foster inspiration within the community.
Charity has long been the way churches have tried to alleviate suffering, but the Reverend David Parker didn't think charity could address the problems in McDowell County, W.Va. Once a top U.S. supplier of coal, the area has since had unemployment as high as 30%. Parker, a local Episcopal minister, could see that people needed more than gifts. "They feel powerless over their economic destiny," he says.
So in 1986, with $10,000 from local bishops, Parker bought a New Hampshire canoe factory and transported it to Keystone, W.Va., where it was rechristened Keystone Enterprises. His goal: to show the community how it could "take hold of [its] future in one little way."
That hasn't been easy. The canoe company has survived with business, foundation, and church help. But it is still striving to become a profitable business that can serve as a role model for other ventures. Meanwhile, a nearby pizza parlor failed soon after it opened -- because nobody put up a sign. "People in these parts don't understand promotion," says former Keystone manager Bob Drake. "It's a carryover from the coal days."
Parker does what he can to change old attitudes. His sermons often sound like business-school lectures, stressing the importance of manufacturing. And he points to the canoe factory as an inspirational symbol. "Our business wouldn't be alive today," he says, "if God's hand wasn't guiding it." -- Elizabeth G. Conlin