Month: July 2017

Jim Atkinson No Comments

Daily Mail editorial: Job losses, economy hitting southern West Virginia hard

The economic news here in central and southern West Virginia isn’t good these days.

“CAMC to cut 300 jobs” the Gazette-Mail’s Thursday headline blared. “Kanawha Electric & Machine Co. closing after 80 years” says one story in today’s print edition.

Economically, it seems we are seeing more down than up lately for the Charleston area.

“Regrettably, there is no end in sight for West Virginia’s economic situation, poor reimbursement from governmental insurance, rising cost of drugs and technology, the nursing shortage and the cost of caring for government-insured patients,” said Charleston Area Medical Center chief Dave Ramsey in a video in announcing the hospital system’s job cuts.

He goes on to say that CAMC’s operations were on course to lose $40 million in 2017, so leadership had been “working on a plan to stop the financial losses and work toward a sustainable future.”

Kanawha Electric & Machine is wrapping up its final repairs this week after decades of work fixing motors, pumps, generators and other items for clients across the U.S., owner Tom Sheppard told Gazette-Mail reporter Max Garland.

Sheppard said many of the company’s biggest clients in the coal industry have been hit hard by the continued shift toward natural gas and renewable energy. This has led to a lack of work for the company, which repairs motors, generators and pumps used in coal mines.

The company’s 14 employees will lose their jobs.

The southern region of West Virginia, particularly, seems to be a tough place for a business to succeed right now.

As a whole, the state’s population has declined by around 12,000 over the past three years, and is likely to lose more than 20,000 residents over the next two decades, reports West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research in its 2017-2021 Economic Outlook.

Also, the state’s population is significantly older than the nation’s as a whole, will continue to age, and ranks at or near the bottom in many basic health outcome measures.

This means the economy won’t get better on its own. West Virginia must take drastic steps to make its business climate more attractive and bring in more people, particularly young people eager to work.

“A positive shock to encourage in-migration is essential to lessen the severity of natural population decline,” the outlook says.

“Economic development strategies should focus on ways to improve health, drug abuse, and education outcomes in the state to make West Virginia’s workforce more attractive to potential businesses.”

It’s not easy for business, economic and government leaders to find ways to grow West Virginia’s economy, but the status quo is unacceptable. It’s time to think differently, stop partisan bickering and quit protecting old turfs.

Jim Atkinson No Comments

Tourism brings business opportunities

Over the past year, the West Virginia Community Development Hub has been working to foster entrepreneurship in communities throughout West Virginia.

“Here at The Hub, we’ve seen energy around new business in the recreation and tourism sectors skyrocket,” said Dan Taylor, entrepreneurial Communities Program Coordinator for the non-profit group.

Taylor says The Hub, based in Clarksburg, W.Va., has been around for over 10 years.

“We have been working all over the state to help communities that may not have the capacity or resources to do community-type projects,” he said.

Taylor works in the coalfield communities in the southern part of state to help diversify their economies by working with the folks in the community.

One project Taylor says The Hub is working on involves the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trails.

“As people come to ride the trail, they are also looking for other recreational activities,” Taylor said. “So, we are working with communities in southern West Virginia with natural assets like trails and waterways to create these recreational opportunities for visitors.”

The Hatfield-McCoy Trails is made up of over 700 miles of trails in southern West Virginia. As one of the largest off-highway vehicle trail systems in the world, Hatfield-McCoy Trails is open 365 days a year and offers something for every skill level.

Taylor says The Hub’s Innovation Acceleration Strategy (IAS) program is a year-long community-based economic diversification planning process.

“The West Virginia Community Development Hub will be working with five communities in Southern West Virginia who are ready, willing and able to start identifying what they want to see in their community, and planning on how to grow and build these sectors,” he explained. “Those communities are Alderson and Madison, and McDowell, Lincoln and Wyoming counties.”

The Hatfield-McCoy Trails range from the scenic mountain views of Pinnacle Creek, to the tight and twisting trails of Bearwallow. Many trails connect to West Virginia’s “ATV friendly towns” where visitors can grab a bite to eat and add to the local economy, Taylor said.

Taylor says his group has also seen land-based trail projects around hiking and biking from The Hub’s previous innovation acceleration program in communities from Boone County to Wyoming County.

“With an uptick in resources available to communities as well through things like the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER program, which has put $92 million within the past year into the region for economic development, it is important for residents here to know about what is available and be able to connect with these opportunities to grow not only their local economy but their own prosperity,” Taylor added.

Just last month at a convening of POWER grantees in Huntington, Jeff Lusk, director of the Hatfield McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, which operates the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, said the ARC’s $1.3 million POWER grant to their organization will be used to help expand tourism-related business opportunities along the Hatfield McCoy Trail.

“We look forward to seeing what additional helpful resources are on the horizon for our region when it comes to growing our recreation and tourism economy,” Taylor said.

Economic Impact Study

In the Summer of 2014, Marshall University’s Center for Business and Economic Research completed an updated economic impact study for the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority.

Hatfield-McCoy Trails for day-to-day operations generated an additional $1.6 million in economic activity within the state, for a total operational impact of $3.3 million, according to the report.

Even more notably, the Hatfield-McCoy Trails bring non-local visitors to the area whose spending is estimated to generate an additional $19 million in economic activity in West Virginia.

Together, the total estimated economic impact of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails is more than $22 million.

The economic activity generated by the Hatfield-McCoy Trails’ operations and visitors also yields tax revenues. The trails impacts the state and local tax base by nearly $120,000 annually, the report stated.

When considering the estimated total employment sustained by the presence of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, an annual state and local tax benefit of more than $455,500 is estimated.

An additional fiscal benefit to the state of more than $1.5 million is estimated as a result of non-local visitor spending while visiting the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.

In addition to providing data for estimating the visitor spending impact of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, the rider survey included in the report indicated largely positive experiences among riders.

“The vast majority of respondents reported a good or excellent experience with the Hatfield-McCoy Trails overall, and more than 97 percent of riders surveyed would recommend the trails to others,” the report stated.

Entrepreneurship and Business Coaching Center

This month, Kristina Oliver accepted the position of Program Administrator for Southern West Virginia Community & Technical College’s new Entrepreneurship and Business Coaching Center.

“I am reaching out to businesses, West Virginia small business champions, economic developers, resource partners and service providers regarding a new initiative that I am excited to lead,” she said.

Oliver said the Hatfield McCoy Regional Recreation Authority in partnership with Southern West Virginia Community & Technical College, the Natural Capital Investment Fund and West Virginia State University have partnered to create an entrepreneurial training and business coaching program in the Coalfields of southern West Virginia.

“The project, which was funded by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission through the Power Plus initiative, will increase tourism and entrepreneurship in southern West Virginia to create a sustainable tourism based economy,” Oliver explained.

She said this initiative focuses on a nine-county region of the state, including Boone, Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, Lincoln, Wayne, Kanawha, McDowell and Mercer counties.

“I have much respect and admiration for the great work being done by many organizations and entities throughout West Virginia to help increase small-business success,” she said. “With this new Center, we will offer business coaching, targeted consulting and impactful training to help existing businesses and to help encourage new business growth.”

Powersports Technology Program

Last year, the college launched a Powersports Technology Program to teach students to service, repair, and maintain a variety of powersports equipment like motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs and personal watercraft.

“The program graduates are prepared to be entry-level technicians and most often work as service technicians, but may also find employment as service writers, parts department personnel and sales staff,” Oliver said.

The full Powersports Technology Program is available on the Boone/Lincoln Campus. The Logan, Williamson, and Wyoming/McDowell campuses offer the general education/program support courses only.

For more information about this program, reach out to

Jim Atkinson No Comments

WV Economic Development Authority advances Cacapon, trail projects

Two projects for state tourist attractions made progress in the West Virginia Economic Development Authority’s monthly board of directors meeting Thursday.

The board approved adjustments to its issuance of excess lottery revenue bonds for Cacapon Resort State Park improvements. The bonds are worth up to $25 million for the park in Berkeley Springs.

The board approved a reimbursement resolution for the park, which would allow the state Division of Natural Resources to be reimbursed for work done prior to the implementation of the bond. It also approved a supplemental resolution that would allow the bonds to mature for up to 30 years instead of 20 years, along with adjustments to comply with IRS code and regulations.

“The important thing is that the project is making progress,” EDA Executive Director David Warner said. “We should have the bonds finalized in the next few months.”

Originally approved in April, the park is expected to use the bonds to fund improvements such as new lodge guest rooms, infrastructure improvements, the addition of a spa and possibly a new pro shop.

Legislators originally approved park funding in 2012 until a decline in lottery revenue put those plans on hold.

The board also gave preliminary approval of a $1.15 million loan to B&O Development on a 15-year term. The Princeton-based company will use the loan to finance the development of lodging facilities for ATV riders using the Hatfield-McCoy trail, Warner said. The facilities will be located in Coaldale in Mercer County.

The EDA is also aiming to spur activity for the U.S. Economic Development Administration Title IX program, which is designed to stimulate economic activity through loans to businesses. The EDA has administered Title IX program loans for about 30 years, but Warner said the program has been underutilized in the past five years due to high interest rates.

“Our state-level sources of funding have had more attractive terms [for businesses],” Warner said. “We want better interest rate terms there, because we haven’t used U.S. EDA money as much.”

To make the program more competitive, the board approved an amendment that would lower the interest rate from 4 percent to 75 percent of the prime lending rate, which is currently around 3.19 percent.

With board approval of the request, the amendment now needs to be approved by the U.S. EDA before implementation.

Also at the meeting, the board gave final approval for a $1.3 million loan on a 20-year term to the Upshur County Development Authority. The loan will go toward the development of the Upshur County Innovation and Knowledge Business Center, in Buckhannon.

Rob Hinton, director of the Upshur County Development Authority, said in May that the facility will have 1 gigabit internet speeds available for area startups.

Reach Max Garland at, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

Jim Atkinson No Comments

On a hot streak, Jefferson County looks to keep on rolling

By in News

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Economic developers in Jefferson County are playing a hot hand.

Earlier this month, state officials announced the Danish company ROXUL intends to break ground in October on a stone wool insulation facility that would employ 150 people. It would be the company’s second facility in the United States.

Just a couple of weeks prior to that, developers announced that the North American operations of the Italian company TeMa will build a $10 million plant near Kearneysville and employ about 30 people.

Add to those an earlier investment by Randox Laboratories, a biotech company from Northern Ireland that placed its North American headquarters near Charles Town — bringing 50 jobs along with it — and you realize Jefferson County is on a roll.

“A lot of it’s location, location, location,” said John Reisenweber, director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

“We’re the only county in West Virginia that’s in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Obviously it’s the seat of power, the seat of government for our country. And the mid-Atlantic region with the number of people who live in this region is an attractant.

“Being 40 minutes from Dulles Airport, 60-70 miles from both D.C. and Baltimore beltways, really does put us in the crosshairs of a lot of interest. We believe we have a value proposition here in Jefferson County. We market the county as a cost-effective alternative to the higher prices and the higher cost of doing business in the Metro area. I think Jefferson County competes very well.”

Based on the strength of its location, plus flat land by West Virginia standards, the Eastern Panhandle’s economy has been relatively robust compared to many other regions of the state.

“Our focus now is on the extreme diversity across West Virginia where some regions are healthy, some are stable and some remain in very difficult economic circumstances,” stated John Deskins, director of the West Virginia University Bureau of Economic Research, earlier this year upon the release of the Mountain State Business Index.

MORE: Procter & Gamble’s WV site and workforce take shape

MORE: Eastern Panhandle county aspires to be center of development

None of the recent investments in Jefferson County by themselves may be home runs, but each is a valuable addition to the local, growing economy in the Eastern Panhandle.

“What we’re seeing is there is a tremendous interest from what we call foreign direct investment — which are international companies looking to get into the United States market,” Reisenweber said.

“They’re looking for places, and we’ve had some good luck as of late.”

He believes other parts of the state may be prime for international investment too.

“I frankly think that’s quite an opportunity for the state of West Virginia as a whole,” he said. “Other parts of the state that are rich in natural gas, there are a lot of international companies that are looking to be in an area like that, whether it’s processing the gas into other products or midstream companies looking to get into the United States market. West Virginia is a good place to do that.”

Reisenweber, a Martinsburg native who has been in his current job for the past five years, says state and local officials may work for years to develop relationships with companies that could invest. But local developers also need to be ready for the moment a company makes its decision.

“There’s a lot of lead time. There’s a lot involved in the recruitment efforts to get an international company located here in West Virginia,” Reisenweber said.

Highways investments and the possibility of natural gas being extended to the region could provide even more incentive for investment, he said.

“Used to be there was a checkbox, and you’d check the boxes for roads, water and sewer. Well, now that list is longer than it used to be. It’s roads, water, sewer, broadband, energy — and those are the infrastructure issues we work on every day.

“Companies are looking for places that are ready to go. They’re looking for available sites that have infrastructure to them already, and the better job we can do getting that infrastructure in place, the better success we’ll have recruiting additional investment.”

ROXUL is an example of a company that had specific infrastructure needs that the county had to help the company meet.

“They were looking for a large rail site. And we’ve had to put together an infrastructure package to get water, sewer, rail spur and gas to that site. The good thing is, that site’s a 400-acre site, and ROXUL will take up about a third of it, so we’ll have the balance of the property already teed up. We’ll have 270 acres right there in Ranson to further develop the economy,” Reisenweber said.

Reisenweber acknowledges that not every attempt to lure a company to Jefferson County is a success. But he says the wins are satisfying.

“It’s tough. The batting average isn’t very good. But you take a lot of satisfaction when you’re able to bring employers into the community or retain existing employers so that folks can have a job and be able to support their families. That’s the part of it I like the most.”