MORGANTOWN \u2014 Representatives from the City of Morgantown and WVU plan to meet with potential investors next month as part of the effort to become the first city\/university to jointly earn the Blue Zone health and wellness designation.\r\nThe Blue Zones Project is a for-profit entity that grew from an extensive research effort to identify the world\u2019s healthiest and longest lived populations and copy their success in other communities.\r\nFive original Blue Zones were identified: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, Calif.; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan and Nicoya, Costa Rica. In the years since, dozens of communities have achieved the Blue Zone title.\r\nFor Morgantown and WVU to join that list, it will likely take about $14 million in private investment according to Colleen Harshbarger, of Wellbeing Solutions.\r\nHarshbarger is under contract as the city\u2019s consultant in the Blue Zone effort. She updated Morgantown City Council during its recent committee of the whole meeting.\r\nShe explained that funding for such projects is traditionally provided by insurance companies and large employers, both of whom have a financial interest in keeping people healthy.\r\n\u201cThey have never had any municipality fund a project,\u201d she said, adding \u201cThe whole model of health care is sort of in this paradigm shift, understanding we\u2019re not going to treat ourselves out of the high cost of care for preventable diseases. So, they certainly stand to gain if we find a way to flip that around.\u201d\r\nRepresentatives from the project first made their pitch to Morgantown last August. A short time later, WVU put up $250,000 for an involved assessment process that included more than 50 local organizations, 70 focus group participants and 150 presentations.\r\n\u201cI\u2019ve been in the wellness profession all of my adult career. I have to say this is the most galvanizing project I\u2019ve ever been involved in,\u201d Harshbarger said.\r\nThe assessment process took a deep dive into many of the factors that impact health in the Greater Morgantown Area, including local alcohol policies, built environment systems, financial well-being, food policies, physical activity and tobacco use.\r\nWhile Morgantown fares somewhat better than the rest of West Virginia, that\u2019s not exactly a high hurdle. The Mountain State has ranked 50th in overall well-being for a decade running according to the Gallup Sharecare Well-being Index.\r\nThe Blue Zone effort is not cheap, but it\u2019s far less expensive than the cost of doing nothing according to Harshbarger and the Blue Zones Project, which put the 10-year value of participation at $97 million for the city based on a simulation model using community metrics focused around medical costs, productivity and regional economic impact.\r\nShould the funding be secured and the project go forward, it will trigger an eight-month effort to tailor what the local project will look like, followed by a four-year transformation and certification phase.\r\nIt will also result in the hiring of seven local full-time project coordinators to be shared between the city and WVU, as well as the formation of a shared steering committee and leadership structure. Additionally, the Blue Zones Project would commit personnel locally and provide access to its global experts and resources.\r\nAccording to City Manager Paul Brake, Harshbarger has been paid $20,000 thus far for her efforts.\r\n\u201cWe are thrilled with the work that has been accomplished so far. This wouldn\u2019t\u00a0 have been possible without Colleen\u2019s hard work and dedication,\u201d Brake said.\r\nTweet @DominionPostWV.