Let’s Talk About Diverse Economic Development in West Virginia

by Duane Nichols on April 13, 2022

“Big Fish” are much preferred over “small potatoes”

Jim Hoyer believes the economic future is bright in West Virginia

From an Article by Mike Nolting, WAJR Radio, January 16, 2022

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When West Virginians think about pandemic response one of the top names that comes to mind is Jim Hoyer. But, the retired general is also very involved in state level economic development efforts through the Joint Interagency Task Force. Hoyer describes his current work in economic development as “running interference” between business, state leaders and Vantage Ventures.

Vantage Ventures is part of the WVU John Chambers School of Business and Economics with the goal of transforming West Virginia into a start-up state. Since 2019, Vantage Ventures has nurtured the ideas and talent of potential entrepreneurs to implement concepts into economic impact. ”Sarah Biller and the folks at Vantage Ventures that are not just working on 24 high-tech companies right now,” Hoyer said. “We’ve modified their mission a little bit to working at what I call catching the big fish.”

The influx of pandemic relief money has opened more opportunity. Hoyer said his challenge is to work as a team to identify the most impactful use of that one-time relief money. “We’re starting right now to focus on assiting the state economic development team — Mitch Carmichael, Mike Graney, the governor’s office and local economic development folks on the bandwidth of assests,” Hoyer said.

West Virginia has to compete with other states on tax structure, available workforce and geographic location to potential customers or users. But here, there are fewer suitable plots of land for development. State government and the federal relief money can help enhance infrastructure. “We’ve got to not only be a good place to do business, but we have to have ready places to do business,” Hoyer said.

Following the announcement of a $2.7 billion Nucor Steel mill in Mason County and a medical warehouse in the Morgantown area, Hoyer believes the state is on the rise. Hoyer based that observation on many years working with state lawmakers and serving in the West Virginia National Guard. “I would tell you that I have never seen a greater interest in operating in the state of West Virginia than I’ve seen in the last 12 to 18 months,” Hoyer said.

Another job announcement is expected in the spring that involves a company possibly locating in a 300,000-square foot facility at the Morgantown Industrial Park. The Morgantown Utility Board is upgrading water and sewer facilities there with a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.


I-79 Harmony Grove interchange moves up priority list

From an Article by Mike Nolting, WV MetroNews, April 3, 2022

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The planning and design stages of the proposed I-79 Harmony Grove interchange for the Morgantown Industrial Park (MIP) is moving forward.

Morgantown Metropolitan Planning Organization Bill Austin said the project has been moved up on the project priority list. Most recently, the project has been moved to the Tier 1 priority list which means it will be completed within the next 8 to 10 years. But, Austin said an enormous amount of work is required to expand or add exits to the interstate highway system.

“The interstate is the biggest federal investment in our country that we have and protecting it’s capacity and making sure it is serving the needs of the community is very important,” Austin said on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”

The interchange will be a vital part of Mountaintop Beverage. Mountaintop Beverage is expected to operate up to 100 semi-trucks daily from the Morgantown Industrial Park. Additionally, reports indicate when the project is officially announced other expansion announcements are expected when project bids are awarded to a contractor.

“There are several potential expansions or additions to the industrial park that would require direct access to the interstate,” Austin said.

The most recent step is the Interchange Justification Report. That report is completed by the developer, Enroute Properties and consultant to show the scope of work to the DOH. “We’re at the point where the DOH and the consultant are reviewing what the study says and preparing a presentation for the Department of Highways,” Austin said.

According to Austin, when the project is complete it will be a very unique set of opportunities to the region. “The thing to remember about the industrial park is it’s actually a truly multimodal facility,” Austin said. “It has rail access, it has barge access and with this it will have interstate access, which is really a confluence that very few areas within the state have.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mary Wildfire April 14, 2022 at 9:16 am

Yes, let’s talk about diverse economic development (ED) in WV.

Of course all that the ED departments and Chamber of Commerce can think about are more-of-the-same big projects, usually highly polluting ones involving fossil fuels, like the Nucor project. Nucor is currently involved in battling locals in Honduras over a polluting mine. It has a history of crimes — a perfect company to lure to West Virginia, which lacking flat land close to major highways and an educated workforce, must compete by promising weak regulation.

As for the Morgantown project — yet another fossil fuel power plant, to service, what? Bitcoin “mining”? A stupid obscenity, the notion that you can “earn” money by wasting as much energy as possible. Madness, at a time of climate and ecological crisis.

What the area and its people need is assistance setting up a large network of small businesses. Small businesses hire more people, and are anchored by local people whose kids are in the local schools, who drink the local water, in other words, who care.

But naturally the economic development people can only think in terms of luring big faceless multinationals in from outside, and tracking up claims of hundreds of jobs in each plant — which usually turn out to be exaggerations. People running small businesses, or thinking about doing so, don’t lobby or bribe legislators, so they are of little interest to developers and public officials.

But a focus on facilitating the setup of a hundred small businesses mostly supplying local needs, and doing things in a sustainable fashion, would be a lot better for this state. Instead of putting in a cracker and plastics plant, like the one PA gave a $1.65 billion tax break to, to use up natural gas liquids, pollute the valley, produce more of something alarmed people are trying to get away from, and instigate who knows how many cancers — we could be producing alternatives to plastic, from wooden toys and silicone food storage bags to glass leftover containers, perhaps insulation panels made from mycelium (see Ecovative and Biohm). But this sort of thing is beyond the imagination of the people in charge.

Mary Wildfire, Roane County, WV


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