McDowell County’s grit, camaraderie profiled in nationwide documentary

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WELCH, WV (WVNS) — It is no secret McDowell County is known for its rich history in the coal industry and being the stomping grounds of NASA engineer Homer Hickam and comedian Steve Harvey. But it will soon be the focus of an episode in an upcoming documentary, titled ‘Connected: A Search for Unity’.

The man behind it is former co-CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Monty Moran. While at his company, he made it his mission to learn more from his employees through in-depth conversation.

“It gave me an incredibly accurate idea of what was going on at the company,” Moran explained. “It helped me to be a much better leader of the company, to focus on the right priorities as a CEO.”

But after retiring, publishing a book, and even becoming a pilot, Moran wanted to go beyond his business ventures to places he never visited before, including West Virginia’s southernmost county.

The Colorado native, however, discovered Appalachia’s coalfields were not just rich in history, but also rich in respect for one another.

“No matter what background you were, there was this camaraderie forged, I think, from basically a common understanding that all the people of McDowell County have either come from a difficult background or know what it’s like to come from a difficult background,” Moran said. “They’re there for each other.”

It’s a camaraderie they captured through many conversations he had with natives.

“You might call it real reality TV,” Moran said. “It’s not political. It’s not religious. It’s not biased. There’s no underlying drive to prove one thing or another… except that we are all connected.”

The documentary is scheduled to broadcast this year and send a clear message beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains:

“We are all in this together,” Moran said. “We’re all sort of the same. The same exact things drive all of us. We all want to be seen, valued, loved, and understood.”

The episode, which is the third in the documentary’s lineup, will air some time within the next two months on PBS stations nationwide.

“It’s an episode that I’m really proud of, highlighting the wisdom of these people, who I think otherwise, wouldn’t have been heard from, at least not nationally,” Moran said.

It is the second time in four years McDowell County is profiled nationwide, after the late Anthony Bourdain explored the county’s community and cuisine in a 2018 episode of his CNN series Parts Unknown.

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