Guest column: Trying to create a spark in the Northern Panhandle

As the fifth week of the legislative session comes to a close, I am excited to see progress on a bill I have co-sponsored which, if signed into law, will provide an economic spark to the Northern Panhandle. Senate Bill 540 will increase the acreage included in the tax increment financing (TIF) zone in Ohio County known as “The Highlands.” The 200 acre expansion will make it possible for the Ohio County Development Authority to finance and construct a new interstate interchange, which will increase overall safety in the area and provide further opportunities for commercial expansion.

The Highlands has already evolved into one of the economic anchors of the Panhandle. The project has resulted in 3170 Jobs, an estimated $79 million annual payroll, $4 million in new property taxes, $1.7 million annual funding to the local school board, 2.8 million square feet of construction and has 73 total tenants to date.

Additionally, the State of West Virginia has seen a positive return on its initial investment in the project. In 2004 the state made a $50 million investment in the development, comprised of a $35 million grant and $15 million in the construction of the initial interstate interchange. Through 20012 it is estimated that the Highlands has generated approximately $67 million in offsetting state tax revenue resulting in a $17 million return on investment.

The tremendous growth and success of the Highlands has resulted in a need for a second interstate exchange. The Ohio County Development Authority has already spent $2.5 million on the proposed Interchange design plans, permits and approvals. The TIF expansion would provide the financing for the interchange so that the construction phase can commence.

The bill has passed through the Senate Government Organization Committee and is currently pending in the Finance Committee. I am hopeful that the bill will be approved in committee and passed through the Senate.

I am also a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 557, which will continue the West Virginia Preventative Care Pilot Program. This program was started in 2007 and provides a mechanism for West Virginians who are without health care coverage to obtain primary and preventive health services for a monthly fee. Typical services under the plan include primary care appointments, x-rays and lab tests. The bill has been introduced to the Senate and referred to the Government Organization Committee.

I encourage all of my constituents to contact me with any questions or concerns. To write me, my address is Senator Rocky Fitzsimmons, State Capitol, Building 1, Room 204-W, Charleston, WV 25305. You can also call me at 304-357-7918 or e-mail me at

(Fitzsimmons, a Democrat from Wheeling, represents the 1st Senatorial District in the West Virginia Legislature)