Brandon Dennison

Photo: Annie O'Neill

Brandon Dennison

Technology, the Economy & Employment
24th Heinz Awards - 2019

Brandon Dennison received the 24th Heinz Award in the Technology, the Economy and Employment category for his work with his nonprofit, Coalfield Development, whose transformative model of employment-based social enterprise is helping to end generational poverty and create a new, diverse and environmentally sustainable economy for West Virginia.

Recognizing that a historic over-dependence on the coal industry and the distress caused by that industry’s decline have wrought an economic, social and environmental crisis for the people of southern West Virginia, Mr. Dennison founded Coalfield Development to offer a unique workforce approach focused on transforming communities. Coalfield Development’s approach follows a 33-6-3 model: 33 hours a week spent in on-the-job training, along with participation in workshops and trainings; six hours a week devoted to community college and business classes for an associate degree in applied sciences; and three hours a week committed to personal development coaching and life skills. At the same time, Mr. Dennison’s organization is incubating new businesses that provide a place for those job skills to be put to work in a way that is healing to communities and to land in the Appalachia left ravaged by the mining industry.

Coalfield Development runs a family of social enterprises staffed by people facing barriers to employment. Revitalize Appalachia is developing the green-collar workforce deployed on projects that include rejuvenating empty buildings and was pivotal to starting Solar Holler, southern West Virginia’s first solar installation company. Another enterprise, Refresh Appalachia, produces fresh, healthy, local food. Since 2013, Coalfield Development has incubated two wood shops, a coffee shop, and an antique mall. The newest social enterprise, SustainU, makes shirts out of recycled material and holds a license with Major League Baseball.

Coalfield Development is also part of a region-wide coalition to address systematic challenges. Among these efforts are Reintegrate Appalachia, a collaborative effort to support people in recovery from drug addiction on the path to finding employment, and the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, a three-state network exploring more innovative, sustainable approaches to mine-land reclamation.

Note: This profile was written at the time of the awards’ presentation.

Most job training is designed to meet the needs of existing employers, but in Appalachia we have a whole economy that needs to be rebuilt and redesigned. ...What benefits employees is to have a healthy economy that is diversified, not dependent on a single industry, and has lots of different opportunities for lots of different kinds of people.”

— Brandon Dennison


Brandon Dennison, Social Entrepreneur Developing a Workforce Model in Appalachia - Heinz Awardee