WELLSBURG - A unique public-private partnership has raised the nearly $40,000 needed to save a rail spur in Wellsburg.
The spur, which serves Graphic Packaging and Eagle Manufacturing, was in danger of being classified inoperable by Norfolk Southern Railroad until the West Virginia Public Port Authority, Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle and city of Wellsburg teamed with Eagle Manufacturing and Graphic Packaging to underwrite the repairs.
BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said the repairs included new crossties, a relay single shoulder tie plate, new track spikes, reinstalling existing anchors from removed ties and hand-tamping new cross ties.
"I believe it's first time (the port authority) has actually put money toward a rail project, a rail improvement," Ford said. "It shows a true collaboration, having five funding sources. From the city of Wellsburg all the way up to the state of West Virginia, it just shows great commitment from all these agencies."
The port authority and BDC each pitched in $5,000, with the city of Wellsburg contributing $1,000. Graphic Packaging anted up $18,000 and Eagle, $9,000.
Graphic Packaging's Jeff Tarr sees it as an opportunity to change the private sector's perception of the Mountain State.
"It is a big deal," he said. "I think we can change the perception of doing business in West Virginia. Outside the state, the perception has always been that West Virginia is a difficult place to do business - this kind of changes that perception, that's the big thing."
Ford said Graphic Packaging made it clear it didn't want to lose the rail spur. "It might have cut their profit margin," he said. "It also could impact Eagle Manufacturing."
Graphic Packaging employees 153 people and Eagle Manufacturing, 170 people.
Ford, for his part, said protecting the Northern Panhandle's rail capacity is crucial.
"We cannot let one more foot of rail capacity go away," he said. "We cannot think about life after any more industries in the panhandle, let alone a valuable employer like Graphic Packaging. We also cannot stand by and permit any more industrial buildings in the panhandle to lose rail service. The BDC made this plea to all of our partners and they all stepped up without hesitation."
BDC Chairman William D'Alesio said winning financial participation from such varied sources "illustrates the importance of regional collaboration in preserving jobs and expanding our employment base."
"It says much about our regional economic development efforts when we can call upon our partners at the state, county, municipal and private industry levels at such critical times and receive the much-needed support that is necessary in the competitive economic climate we are doing business," D'Alesio said.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)