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 technology@southernwv.edu.


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 max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 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.”


Cberwebsite_admin No Comments

Airport continues to see growth, renovations, upgrades

KENOVA – Huntington Tri-State Airport Director Jerry Brienza said 2016 was a very pretty productive year.

It has been a year of more passengers, more revenue and infrastructural improvements for the airport.

Located less than 10 miles west of downtown Huntington, major renovations have been completed in order to advance the terminal and the runway.

“One of the things we have been able to do is secure $3 million in federal funding,” Brienza said.

The money is being used for a ramp rehabilitation project.

“We are in Phase III,” he said. “The project has been staggered over the past eight years.”

Phase III includes parts of the ramp on the commercial apron, the general apron and the air cargo apron, Brienza explained.

“This will complete the project,” he said. “This means we basically have all new ramps at the airport.”

Brienza said 2016 also saw the completion of a seal coat project.

“We put a rejuvenating fog-seal coat on the runway, which helps preserve the pavement we have down,” he said.

“We put in all new pavements about five years ago … this should prevent cracking and extend the life of the runway.”

Brienza said the airport started an environmental assessment in 2016.

“It covers approximately 80 percent of our airport property,” he said. “We will be able to start development on any part of the property that has been assessed.”

Brienza says by getting Phase II of the assessment completed, it would allow the airport property being marketed for development to be “shovel ready” for any developer that may want to build.

Moving forward on improvements

Several projects listed in the airport’s five-year capital improvement plan, submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, have either been completed or are in the works.

In 2016, the airport also started a wildlife mitigation project.

“We had a very large pond on the south side of the airport,” Brienza said. “Ponds are known to be wildlife attractors, and, although we like wildlife, planes and wildlife are not friendly with each other, so we started draining the pond. We are putting in detention retaining to draw water away, so there will be no standing water on that side of the airport.”

Brienza said the project should be finished in a month.

The airport completed an access road study in 2016.

“We have one road coming up to the main terminal side of the airport, and we need another road to have secondary access,” he said. “It gives us improved safety and efficiency. Right now there is only one way in and out of the airport.”

Brienza said the study concluded the best alternative access road is coming from the top of the hill, where the road splits from off from general aviation to commercial aviation, and making a loop road back to the Fed Ex facility down at the bottom of the hill.

“The road would come right behind it and attach to the current access road,” he said.

A cost benefit analysis is ongoing, and initial cost estimates are around $12 million, according to Brienza.

“We are currently applying for grants to do the design work sometime in 2017,” he said. “This would put us in a position to apply for federal road funds in 2018 for construction of the new road.”

Also in 2016, the airport was able to secure an Americans with Disabilities Act grant.

“This will be used to improve our situation in our parking lot,” Brienza said. “Right now we have an ADA ramp that is not in the best shape, and we don’t have a needed elevator to really make us ADA compliant.”

The airport is in the design phase for a dual elevator and stairwell facility.

“We have picked out the design we want, and the construction should start in a few months,” Brienza said.

Not only will the dual elevators make it easier to get into the airport, but the covered stairway will ensure people are protected from inclement weather once they get inside the elevator/stairway system, he said.

The estimated cost of elevator and stairwell is $1.2 million, Brienza added.

Brienza said this would also be the first phase of the airport’s intermodal business center and garage project.

“It would accommodate the car rental companies at the airport as well as passenger parking, ticket counters, restaurant and baggage claim areas,” he said. “Along with a business center, we would lease out space to generate revenue. So the facility would be built around the new elevators and parking garage.”

The airport added a $90,000 piece of snow-removal equipment and an $80,000 terminal back-up generator.

What’s coming in 2017

The airport wrapped up 2016 projects with nearly completed taxiway design.

“We are reconstructing and relocating our current taxiway Alpha East,” Brienza said. “That design project was $900,000, and we are moving that taxiway further away from the runway so that we can accommodate larger aircraft at the airport.”

Construction will start mid-July 2017 with a total estimated cost of $10 million.

In 2017, the airport is using funds collected from car rental companies at the airport to move forward with a new car rental service area.

“This will accommodate the car rental’s car wash facility and fueling facilities,” Brienza said.

“We will be moving them down into the area where the remote parking area is now. It won’t look the same because we are going to knock down that hill and flatten that ground for the new car service facilities with employee parking and space to accommodate a small hotel operator to come in and construct a new hotel here.”

Another project, which Brienza calls the pride and joy of the airport, is a business development area, called the Tri-State Aeroplex.

In 2016, about $2.5 million in infrastructure improvements, including adding several utilities such as sewer, fire water, potable water and fiber, were completed on the 95-acre parcel, but Brienza said there is still $422,000 worth of utility improvements that have yet to be completed.

“We’ve completed most of the utilities, including water and sewer, and we have also brought fiber over there,” he said. “All we need is gas and electric, and we are close to having those as well.”

The hope is that the Aeroplex will be a place for companies to build maintenance and repair facilities, as well as avionic shops and aircraft paint shops. There also will be room for private hangars for aircraft storage. The Cabell County Commission has committed $50,000 to help with the improvements.

Brienza said the airport can now begin the process of marketing the land to outside companies.

“It’s very valuable land, because in West Virginia 100 acres of flat land is rare,” he said.

“What we anticipate is that it will be a place for someone to come in and put a big maintenance and repair facility, and then other businesses would be able to spur off of that like an avionic shop, aircraft paint shop and also room for many private hangers for aircraft storage. We are marketing the site with economic development leaders and groups in the Tri-State area that is substantially complete now.”

Brienza said an assessment of the airport’s inventory to identify and evaluate the resources necessary to attract and support aerospace to the greater Tri-State area is nearly complete.

“We want to become a certified aerospace-ready community status here,” he said. “That study is nearly wrapped up, and it appears we have the things necessary to be certified.”

In 2017 the airport is looking to expand its Transportation Security Administration lanes.

“Right now there is one line for passengers to go through and one machine,” he said. “We want to expand to two lanes to speed up the process. Right now we are in the design process.”

Travelers, personnel and more

The airport finished 2016 with slightly less than 100,000 outgoing passenger boardings, called enplanements, according to Beckie McKinley, marketing director at the airport.

“We were about 3 percent less than the previous year,” McKinley said. “A lot of that has to do with the number of seats available to sell on the aircrafts, and that was slightly down as well.”

However, McKinley said there has been an increase in enplanements since September 2016.

“Allegiant Air and American Airlines boarding increased significantly over this same time period in 2015,” she said. “January 2017 looks good as well, so we are hoping to continue this trend.”

National pilot shortages have also caused an increase in cancelled flights, Brienza added.

“Nobody is supplying pilots to the area due to rule changes for the number of training hours pilots need from 250 hours to 1,500 hours,” he explained. “This has affected the pilot supply for smaller airports and had an effect on the numbers of cancelled flights.”

The airport is performing a new economic impact study.

Ten years ago the Marshall University Center of Business and Economic Research conducted a two-part economic impact study that calculated the impact on output, employment and tax revenue as a result of the airport presence in the region.

The study found local airports are a vital part of any community because they connect residents with the rest of the country and the world. It also determined access to air transportation is critical to economic development and business growth in the region.

At the time the study was done in 2006, the airport employed 803 people, had an income of $21.1 million, which pumped $50.4 million back into the region, and resulted in $3.5 million in state and local tax revenue.

Since the time of the study, Brienza said the airport has grown tremendously, and he now has plans to pursue an updated economic impact study.

“We have looked at jobs and the overall economic impact, but now we are also looking at how things like the Heartland Intermodal Gateway in Prichard in Wayne County is going to economically impact the airport and how is the expansion of U.S. 52 and the Culloden interchange going to effect the economic impact of the airport,” he said. “We are taking a boarder view.”

Spring and summer continue to be the airport’s busiest flying seasons.

“Two of our flights, one to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the other to Punta Gorda, Florida, which is in the Fort Myers area, are seasonal,” she said. “Both are getting ready to start again for our spring flying season. Our summer season has also been extended to include the month of October. Service to Orlando and St. Pete are year-round.”

Of the two airlines that the airport offers, Allegiant Air and American Airlines, Allegiant captures the majority of the customers.

Brienza said Allegiant is able to service more passengers because they are flying bigger jets while American is using the smaller aircraft.

About of 70 percent of enplanements were with Allegiant.

The airport also announced appointment of Michael Wentz as the airport’s chief of police to oversee the airport’s Police Department.

Wentz brings 28 years of police department experience to his new role, including having served as a Tri-State Airport Police Officer since May 2016. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Military Police School and the West Virginia State Police Academy.

Prior to joining the airport, Wentz served in multiple law enforcement roles with agencies in Wayne, Ceredo and Kenova before retiring as sergeant/detective bureau commander in May 2016 from the Cabell County Sheriff’s Office. He resides in Huntington.

“Chief Wentz is well qualified and experienced to oversee the law enforcement and security functions at the airport,” Brienza said. “Nearly 200,000 passengers traveled through HTS in 2016, and we expect to meet or exceed that number in 2017. Keeping travelers, visitors and employees safe and secure has been and remains the airport’s top priority. I’m excited to have Chief Wentz leading these efforts and am confident he’ll continue to be a great asset to the airport and community.”

Airport police officers are employees of the Tri-State Airport Authority and are state certified and empowered to enforce the state laws of West Virginia within the geographical boundaries of the airport.

Brienza says the airport police department’s primary function is the protection and safety of the general public as they pass through the airport.

“The department works closely with the Transportation Security Administration and all other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to carry out its mission,” he said.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter at @FredPaceHD.