BDC, area chamber eye partnership

FOLLANSBEE — The Follansbee Chamber of Commerce and Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle are poised to form a partnership aimed at drawing new businesses to the city.

Chamber members on Tuesday met with BDC Executive Director Pat Ford and other leaders of the economic development group to discuss a proposed Good Neighbor Agreement involving the former Follansbee Steel site it purchased last fall for more than $1.3 million.

Ford said the agreement isn’t required for a grant sought for an environmental cleanup of the site, but helps to show community involvement or support for the effort, something federal and state environmental officials look for.

The two-page document calls for the BDC to keep the chamber informed of all construction activity there and for the BDC and the chamber to work together to investigate funding opportunities for the property.

Chamber President Tony Paesano said the chamber’s board of directors will review the agreement but he’s optimistic it will be adopted at the chamber’s April 18 meeting.

Marvin Six, assistant director of the BDC, said it appears cleanup efforts at the Follansbee Steel site won’t be extensive but it normally takes about 18 months to pursue such an effort, including the wait period for a grant application.

Ford said the BDC has been awarded about $7 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and must undergo periodic audits to ensure appropriate use of those funds.

He said such cleanups make property more attractive to businesses, adding the Follansbee Steel site has several other strong selling points. They include close proximity to state Route 2 and U.S. Route 22, the Ohio River and the Norfolk-Southern Railroad and access to utilities.

Ford showed chamber members a tentative master plan dividing the 22 acre site into sections of various sizes. The plan is seen as a possible layout for the land’s use only.

He said the site is being eyed for industries involved in metal-related services, such as those that cut or coat steel coils; energy, including oil and gas; and transportation logistics, such as distribution centers.

Ford said the site could be occupied first by temporary tenants. But he said the former Wheeling Corrugating plant in Beech Bottom has benefited from several such businesses, which have contributed to the costs of a new roof, sewer line extension and cranes used for operations there.

Ford added businesses at the plant, not all of them temporary, also have contributed to local food pantries and other causes.

Paesano said plans also call for the chamber to be named an economic development task force for the BDC, which is in keeping with its goal of creating a positive business climate in the city.

He said the development of new businesses in Follansbee will create jobs for neighboring communities and counties also. He noted a trolley on the Market Street Bridge once carried workers from Ohio to Follansbee Steel.

Paesano said too many young adults have left the area to find jobs, and an effort must be made to attract diverse businesses to establish a more stable economy.

Bill D’Alesio, chairman of the BDC’s board of directors, said while many local high school graduates went on to jobs in the steel industry, that has changed.

“We can no longer ride the same horse and get where we want to go,” he said.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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