West Virginia craftsman supports young entrepreneurs
By Leslie Fitzwater
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When Andrew White left Annapolis, Maryland, and arrived at West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown in 1997, he was certain he was in the right place. “It was almost instant. I said this place is it. I’m coming here.” More than a decade later, White is still in Morgantown operating a successful business, reaching out to fellow young entrepreneurs and singing the praises of his adopted home state.
“More and more I’m traveling with my business,” White said. “I’m going to incredible places like Montreal, Miami, D.C., Baltimore, New York and Los Angeles. But over the last year or so I’ve noticed that I just feel better when I get back to West Virginia. Coming home to West Virginia is like a breath of fresh air. It’s home.”
The same sense of certainty that landed White in Morgantown also served him well in choosing a career. While studying abroad in Spain during his sophomore year, White met a guitar maker and immediately knew that was what he wanted to do. After graduating from WVU in 2001 with dual degrees in Spanish and Philosophy, White began to develop a plan to make his dream career a reality.
Today, his company, Andrew White Guitars, sells high-quality, handcrafted guitars to an international market through the Web site. White handcrafts 20 guitars yearly, spending anywhere from 150 to 200 hours on each instrument. Because he works on multiple pieces at the same time, each guitar takes approximately three months to complete. Guitars in the Andrew White Signature Series range in price from $5,000 to $10,000 a piece. He recently introduced a new line called the Deckers Creek Collection, named for the stream that runs close to his home.
White says his company is a great example of the opportunities West Virginia offers for doing business in the state. He enjoys the “old-world” feeling he gets from living and working in Morgantown, yet sells his guitars to clients across the globe.
“You can do business here in the state and across all the borders. People in West Virginia are proud of what you do, and people in Paris and Italy appreciate and purchase your products. It’s a pretty neat feeling.”
White says that West Virginia is rich with opportunities for entrepreneurs like himself, but that young entrepreneurs face different challenges than more experienced ones, especially in finding resources to start or grow their businesses. “Young entrepreneurs are critical for the future of business for the state,” he said. That’s why he founded and acts as director of the Young Entrepreneurs Support Network (YESNetwork).
According to its Web site, the group’s primary objectives are to provide members with relevant and timely information and tools to strengthen their businesses, and to create an environment where young entrepreneurs can support one another in their entrepreneurial endeavors. The YESNetwork launched in February 2008, with four chapters around the state: North Central, Eastern Panhandle, Advantage Valley and New River Gorge.
When he’s not handcrafting guitars or mentoring young entrepreneurs, White likes to spend time in the southern part of the state and is particularly fond of Lewisburg. He often goes to music and cultural events and says, “One of the things I love about West Virginia is that I can sit and listen to old-time music and check out handmade pottery, blown glass and handcrafted musical instruments like dulcimers and banjos. And I can do that all on top of or in sight of a mountain.”
When asked what he considers to be West Virginia’s best kept secret, White says he believes it is that the state won’t be secret for long.