An Unlikely Collaboration Spurs Economic Development in Fairmont

1 Feb 2018

Many communities around the country are learning that collaboration, rather than competition, is the key to sustainable economic growth. A unique partnership between the Fairmont Area Schools and the City of Fairmont is a prime example of how working together towards creative solutions can have a lasting, long-term economic impact.

A number of years ago, the Stade family generously donated a parcel of property to the Fairmont school district. Since the school didn’t have use for the property, it was appraised and listed for sale for $200,000.

The property sat dormant for about 8 years until City Administrator Mike Humpal approached the school with a proposition. If the school would sell the land for $1, the city would develop the property into 20 residential building lots. For each lot sold, the school would get $10,000.

Joe Brown, superintendent of Fairmont Area Schools, says the school and the city leadership voted unanimously to approve the deal. They recognized it would be mutually beneficial. The school could use the money and Fairmont needed the building lots in order to grow.

As part of the Fairmont Economic Development Authority’s new strategic plan, it’s focusing on six areas of economic development. One of them is ensuring a good inventory of safe, decent, quality housing for all income levels. The idea is that quality housing will help attract people to Fairmont as well as retain existing residents.

“It’s a good recruiting tool for our community. Looking at the long term, it will increase the tax base,” notes Brown. For every house built, hopefully there will be a student that goes to school here. Every elementary child brings $7,000 per year and every high schooler brings $10,000 per year to the school district.”


The city invested $1.4 million into building the infrastructure, such as utilities and sidewalks, for the Whitetail Ridge subdivision. Five lots have already been sold. Construction began last fall on the first new home and the rest are planned for 2018.

The school has received $50,000 so far and has decided to earmark the money for vocational programs. The school has a 15-week welding academy available to students on Saturdays at no charge and to the public for $250. An agricultural academy and greenhouse has been implemented and plans are underway to start a construction and trades academy.

Brown notes this project will positively affect not just the city but also the future of the state, since the school will be providing important training programs during a time when skilled workers are in demand.

“Of all the things I’ve been involved with in my 23 years as an administrator, this collaboration with the city with Whitetail Ridge has been the most exciting. It’s a win-win-win,” says Brown.

Brown points out that collaborations like this are essential for growth and stability as the city looks to the future. “We live in an agrarian part of the country with lot of farms and silos. Speaking philosophically, we need to eliminate the silos. We need to start doing more things together and encouraging collaboration between the school districts, cities, local businesses and manufacturers.”