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by Darlene J. Swiger

WESTON — Tourism and a long-term plan for economic development were highlights of Monday’s Lewis County Commission meeting.

Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Chris Richards presented her quarterly and annual reports. She said a Blue Ridge Country magazine writer came to Lewis County to visit local attractions for an article.

“I attended an amazing presentation with the West Virginia CVB that covered the state of the American traveler and all the different media outlets they use to book a single trip, regardless of the length or destination,” Richards said. “Today, the average person visits 38 websites before booking a trip, and 65 percent of those folks rely on social media, word of mouth … and video to make those decisions. Travel is expected to be up across the U.S. this year.”

Richards attended her first Southeast Tourism Society Congressional Summit this year and became chair of the event for West Virginia.

“While in D.C., we spoke with all of our state’s representatives and/or their staff to discuss and educate them on the needs of West Virginia with federal agencies that support tourism and so much more in the state, which have all been listed in the president’s budget cuts,” she said. “We have worked with several groups to provide tourism information to people coming to the area for multiple events.”

The top five countries to visit according to the CVB website are the United States, Great Britain, the Russian Federation, the Netherlands and Romania. The top 10 states/districts in the U.S. to visit were West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, New York, Washington, D.C., Florida, North Carolina and California.

The checkbook balance as of June 30 was $23,670.74, with no dollars in open contracts from fiscal year 2017 and $19,517 in open contracts for 2018. The Golden Investment Account balance is $32.41.

Lewis County citizen Tom Berlin of Valley Chapel asked the commission about economic development and the future of Lewis County.

He discussed the county being on the verge of more economic activity due to the large interstate natural gas pipelines’ construction.

“I think we all know that this upcoming economic surge is likely to be a temporary boon for the county. However, there will certainly be somewhat of a financial windfall for the Lewis County Commission as collections of various fees and taxes increase. I want to ask how you intend to leverage this upcoming windfall to help to build a sustainable future for Lewis County,” Berlin said.

Commission President Pat Boyle said for the past two to three years, it has been hard to have grandiose ideas.

“Our main objective is to stabilize the county tax base and be fiscally responsible. We are working on grants to take care of county buildings/assets,” Boyle said. “I don’t spend money we don’t have. In my nine years, our hands have been tied by state government.”

He also discussed the daily work behind the scenes to bring companies to the county.

“It is disheartening to get responses from companies saying we do not have enough ‘housetops.’ There is $2.5 billion coming for road projects. I hope some of those are here. Infrastructure and housing are big concerns.”

Commissioner Rod Wyman added they have been diligently working to bring in businesses and build manufacturing.

County Administrator Cindy Whetsell said the Planning Commission is working on a comprehensive plan for the future, and the commission will integrate all parts of that plan to diversify the economy.

In other business, the commission:

— Approved a Regional Jail and Correctional Facility invoice of $76,814 for July.

— Received approval from the state auditor for a $568,632 budget revision.

— Approved the resignation of Board of Health member Linda Fox and appointment of Britainey Cooper.

— Signed a proclamation honoring the late Richard Bonnett for his years as a county commissioner and membership on countless boards.

Staff writer Darlene J. Swiger can be reached at (304) 626-1403 or dswiger@theet.com