An internet entrepreneur invests in his West Virginia hometown.
Ever wonder how a dying town finds a new lease on life? How boarded up buildings become bastions for new businesses? How small rural communities can educate youth while empowering them to improve their hometowns? If so, you’re going to love meeting these Possibilitarians. They embrace bold ideas with purposeful action and inspire and mobilize others to do the same. They focus on solutions instead of problems. They think positively and act with passion. They turn possibilities into realities.
When Ken Allman relocated the offices of his online physician job search platform, PracticeLink, from St. Louis, Missouri, to Hinton in 1999, it was a major commitment to his childhood home. The once-bustling railroad hub had suffered significant setbacks in the 1980s. But Allman believed in its charming 16-block historic district and its Amtrak service to New York and Chicago. And why couldn’t Hinton offer great shopping, dining, entertainment, and lodging for the employees and guests of his growing company? Over the past two decades, he’s helped it do just that.
He renovated the Moose lodge downtown as PracticeLink’s main office. Then he started MountainPlex Properties to manage a range of projects: first a bed and breakfast, The Guest House Inn on Courthouse Square, which now encompasses several non-hosted buildings that combine the quality of a boutique hotel with the personalized experience of a B&B. Then MountainPlex added a high-quality casual restaurant, The Market on Courthouse Square, and renovated the 1929 Ritz Theatre. It also acquired the grand 1907 McCreery Hotel and restored its first floor as conference and banquet space. It now operates Otter & Oak, a specialty shop offering name brand apparel, footwear, home goods, giftware, and artisan-made products, located near the McCreery and with a strong online retail presence. And Otter Cafe coffee shop was recently added upstairs in the Otter & Oak building and is quickly becoming an important gathering spot for locals.
In all, MountainPlex now owns more than 20 buildings in the historic district and an island in the New River that holds a popular B&B cabin retreat, and MountainPlex Media has brought two radio stations back to town. In Hinton, Allman’s enterprises employ several dozen with PracticeLink and about 50 through MountainPlex.
A best-kept West Virginia secret, Hinton has a romantic railroad history that is celebrated in a downtown mural and the Hinton Railroad Museum. The town sits at the confluence of the Greenbrier and New rivers and near Bluestone Lake—which, taken together, make up one of the most beautiful and varied concentrations of family-friendly flatwater recreation in the state. It also lies near Bluestone and Pipestem Resort state parks and, since 2020, at the southern end of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. And Hinton is easy to get to; it’s not only served three days a week by the Amtrak Cardinal line, but Allman likes to say that its location between interstates 64, 77, and 81 puts it within a 90-minute drive of a half-million people. The revitalizing work of Allman and other dedicated residents and entrepreneurs has positioned the town well for growing parks visitation. “Hinton has such natural beauty coming into town from all directions,” he says. “A lot of us have felt the potential was there. As quick as our decline was, I think there’s a chance that we are a phoenix rising—hopefully we can do it in a responsible way and achieve something really special.”
Allman and other town leaders recently formed a nonprofit organization to create a community center and make other enhancements for Hinton’s residents and visitors. Upcoming projects and collaborations Allman and others are working toward would create a hotel as well as parks at river landings connected by a riverside trail network.
Ken Talks Shop
How were you able to headquarter an internet-based business in small-town West Virginia in 1999?
We had cable in Hinton back in the 1950s. So we actually had broadband that made it possible to establish an Internet company in the Hinton Historic District in 1999—we had sufficient internet bandwidth even then. That continues to be a strength now that isn’t a limiting factor.
What’s fun for you?
We like to work with people who are humble, hungry, and smart—not necessarily just IQ, but also EQ, emotional intelligence, knowing how to treat people. When people who grew up in our community bring those qualities into our corporate culture and we can give them a chance to do what they need to do at this moment in their life or to be able to stay in our area and fulfill their potential here, that’s fun for us.
Second to that is serving our customers. We like to say, whether it’s MountainPlex or PracticeLink, we serve those who serve others. Health care workers have the tough jobs on the front lines—we’re helping institutions get the physicians and advanced practice providers they need. But also locally we’re serving our employees, our neighbors, and our guests who visit, and providing great experiences for all three of those groups of people is huge.
And third is creating things that are sustainable, that give more than they take. We love our community, we love our neighbors, and we love our state. Let’s just be the best we can be and get it done, and the rest will take care of itself.
LIVING IN HINTON
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Jerry Willey says
Quite thrilled with what you’ve accomplished to renovate my place of birth 12/15/1946! I have many stories about spending the first 22 years of my life in Hinton. My father was Howard Willey who did lots of renovations before he was one of the people who started building Pipestem from day one. He retired from there in 80s as the Chief of the mechanical operations of Pipestem.
I’m thrilled with your efforts to preserve and renovate this storied little city of my birth. Despite the fact of extensive travel in my career as a mechanical engineer living in several cities in the eastern USA my thoughts keep coming back to my humble roots. I currently live in Columbus, OH for the past 7 years but still find time to visit Hinton, WV!
I would like to speak with you sometime regarding not only your past accomplishments but your view of the future for Hinton!
Til then, JK Willey