Development strategies discussed

WELLSBURG – Area officials are using the Internet, including posting videos on YouTube, in an effort to attract potential businesses to Brooke County.

Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, told members of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority Wednesday several videos have been posted on YouTube to promote development of unused industrial sites and other properties acquired by the BDC for economic development.

Ford said Alexa Frankovitch, a senior at Wheeling Jesuit University, created the videos, which focus on the former Taylor, Smith & Taylor Pottery site in Chester, former Weirton Heights fire station and the old Jimmy Carey Stadium in Weirton, Trimodal Terminal property in Follansbee and former Brooke Glass site in Wellsburg.

He said the TS&T video has yielded about a dozen inquiries from parties interested in developing that site and he’s hopeful all of the videos will generate responses.

Ford said in addition to including footage and information about the assets of the sites, the TS&T and Brooke Glass videos offer glimpses of the Chester and Wellsburg communities.

“It gives viewers not only a look at the sites but also a flavor of their communities,” he said.

Ford said the idea has inspired him to consider working with others to create videos focusing on the communities themselves.

Norm Schwertfeger, secretary of the economic development authority, said he and fellow EDA members Greg Sheperd and Tom Oughton hope to create an online inventory of vacant buildings available to new businesses.

It’s a move inspired by the Tucker County, West Virginia economic development board but used to some extent also by the BDC.

Schwertfeger said Sheperd plans to recruit college students also to aid the group in surveying property owners to ensure they are interested in selling their buildings.

Ford also updated the BDC on other efforts.

He said Jupiter Aluminum, one of the tenants at the former Wheeling Corrugating Plant has invested about $500,000 in a new roof for its portion of the plant, and the roof over the administrative offices will be replaced in the future.

“There’s a lot happening to that building to make it marketable,” Ford said.

The Beech Bottom plant and about 650 acres occupied by it were acquired by the BDC and Hackman Capital Partners of Los Angeles last year.

Ford said a physical environmental assessment of the Brooke Glass site is underway and should take three to four months to complete. Funded by a $77,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the work will involve determining the extent of environmental contamination there and the cost to clean it up, he said.

Ford said once the assessment is done, the BDC will seek a grant for the cleanup.

The two groups are seeking public input about potential uses for the site through a series of meetings held at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month at the Salvation Army Service Center on state Route 2.

A tour of the Brooke Glass building will be offered at 4 p.m. before the Sept. 4 meeting. Those interested in the tour should call Mayor Sue Simonetti at (304) 737-2090.

Ford said the former glass factory is expected to be demolished, and the BDC and Northern Brownfield West Virginia Assistance Center is exploring ways to acknowledge the factory’s operation for more than 100 years.

Ford said Ruby Greathouse of the Brooke County Museum has been invited to collect glass samples and other materials from the building for display there.

Ford also told the group business loan guarantees up to $250,000, over a 10-year period, will be available through the First Microloan of West Virginia program next year to businesses interested in moving into unused commercial sites in low to moderate income areas.

Ford said the program previously has used federal Small Business Association funds to offer up to $50,000 in loan guarantees to businesses for startup or expansion costs. He said the BDC has helped two Weirton businesses and another in Wellsburg to secure funds through that program.

He said those interested in learning more about the program may call First Microloan of West Virginia at (304) 604-3560 or visit its website at www.washingtoncountypa.org/wvsba.

In other business, EDA member Patty Welling said there are plans to hold a business after hours this fall to give area officials, business leaders, Realtors and potential entrepreneurs an opportunity to network. Welling said there are plans to contact local chambers of commerce about the event and more details will be announced.