Getting laid off can be pretty scary, especially if you've been working the same job for 30 years. That was the reality for former coal miner Johnny Lawson.
Rather than letting this unfortunate situation get the best of him, Lawson decided to start a business.
"In this part of this state all there is to do is coal mine," Johnny Lawson said.
Lawson worked in coal mines for nearly 30 years, but in 2016 he, along with 200 other miners, got lay-off notices.
"If I wanted to stay around here, I was going to have to do something else, something different," Lawson said.
While it's been an unofficial tradition for each generation of the Lawson family to work in the mines, Johnny Lawson said he wanted something else for his family. So, he took advantage of the United Mine Workers (UMWA) National Emergency Grant Program which helps out-of-work miners find jobs or training.
"It’s a job where you can interact with people and doesn't take much to get started and my son too, he wanted to do it, and I can work with him," Lawson said.
This miner turned barber now gets to spend his days with his 19-year-old son in Lawson's Barber Shop, which they opened just a few weeks ago in downtown Summersville.
"When I was in the coal mines I was with them more than my family, and now I work with my family, so it's good," Lawson said.
Lawson's story is far from over, and he acknowledges that "it takes a while to build business," but he's determined to keep putting in the work to give his new business a chance at success. While not every laid off coal miner can turn around and start his own business, stories like this one show just how hard working West Virginians really are. While Lawson chose to start a business, others may choose to go into tech fields, manufacturing or agriculture. There's just one problem, these new jobs are vastly outnumbered by the amount of West Virginians looking for work.
There are two resources that have made coal successful in WV, one is the coal itself, the other is the West Virginians that have worked in the mines for generations. If our leaders can help bring new types of jobs to West Virginia, businesses in all industries will start to see how hard working West Virginians are, and how valuable a resource a workforce of mountaineers can be.