- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - As locally owned businesses face struggles in a West Virginia economy lagging behind most of the country, sponsoring an event or helping with a fundraiser might not be the first thing on their mind.

But Jeremy Nelson, executive director of Moses Premier Auto Group, said the money spent on philanthropic efforts is one of the best ways for businesses of a smaller scale to establish themselves.

“You can’t be everything to everyone, but we want to be doing the right things by helping sponsor an event or something like that,” he said. “And in the meantime, you hope those people remember you when they’re buying a car.”

It also pays off in a more immediate sense - with the people they see benefit from the efforts. Nelson pointed out working with the local Ronald McDonald House, the nonprofit family health care service, as particularly moving.

“When you’re at the Ronald McDonald House and you see people in the worst moments of their lives, it’s cool that we’re able to embrace them, support them and provide housing when they don’t know where to turn,” he said.

As he settles into his new gig as executive director for the recently formed Moses Premier Auto Group, Nelson will lead the efforts for one of Charleston’s most familiar community sponsors. It’s a wrinkle in his wide-ranging job he does not take lightly.

“They have been stewards of the community for years,” Nelson said. “We’re going to continue that work, and this is just the beginning. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

The car dealership has backed myriad charities and events in the Charleston area over the years, including the outdoor concert series Live on the Levee, The Foundation for the Thomas Memorial and Saint Francis Hospitals, and the annual Carnaval Gala, a fundraiser for the Clay Center and the Charleston Ballet.

Before Nelson joined Moses Premier, the umbrella group of Moses’ dealerships and factory outlets officially formed this year, he saw the symbiosis of business and charity when he joined Smith Company Motor Cars in 2001 as a car salesman.

According to Nelson, Smith Company’s owner Jed Smith laid the groundwork for the dealership’s emphasis on community reinvestment.

“I realized through him that through a lot of networking and being involved in the community, you can build a great business in the car industry,” Nelson said.

Eventually, Nelson was promoted to manager, where he spearheaded much of Smith Company’s community efforts. He worked with United Way and the Ronald McDonald House and was co-chair of the Thomas Health Foundation’s charity gala and auction.

Sally Barton, executive director of the foundation, said Nelson’s personalized approach helped Smith Company and will only benefit Moses.

“He sees these things not just as a business opportunity, but as an opportunity to give back,” she said. “He’s driven by philanthropy, and successful businesses are the ones that have people engage in that way.”

Some of Nelson’s community work has been a little less traditional. The Charleston dealership was a large part of the Diaper Drop Charities effort after the deadly floods in June 2016, which collected thousands of donated diapers for the children of families affected by the flooding. Nelson said Smith Company had a drop-off site for the diapers and matched the first 5,000 that were donated.

“That’s not the first thing you think of when you think philanthropy, but it was important and we wanted to answer that call,” he said.

But the dealership, which sold and serviced Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar vehicles, was acquired by the Parkersburg-based Astorg Motor Company in December after Smith retired as owner.

There was an opportunity to stay on board as part of Astorg, but Nelson decided to go his own way in the wake of the transaction. Moses was already a familiar presence in the Charleston area, and Nelson said that local connection through its philanthropy work led him to join the dealership.

Sponsorships are also a way to show customers that a company cares about the community, according to Drew Hendricks, a contributor at the business advice website Inc.

“Your competitors’ products and/or services may be just as great as yours, but if your business shows an ethical commitment to the community as a whole, you can bet potential customers will take that into consideration,” he wrote in a 2014 article.

Jim Strawn, who is involved with several philanthropic groups in Charleston and a committee chairman for Live on the Levee, said Nelson will be a “true asset” with Moses. He recalled several times when Nelson would host events for one of his organizations when there wasn’t an option elsewhere.

There was even an instance in which Strawn held an event for the Ronald McDonald House, and Nelson came through when parking was limited with a minivan and a makeshift shuttle service.

“It’s good to have people in West Virginia business helping charities that are helping people,” Strawn said. “These are very trying times, but West Virginians are known for giving folks the shirts off our back, and he’s a perfect example of that.”


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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