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Brooke economic development board to go independent

ECONOMIC GROUP TO GO INDEPENDENT — The Brooke County Commission on Tuesday announced it has severed ties with the county’s economic development authority, which has made plans to seek status as a nonprofit entity, at the recommendation of the state auditor’s office.

WELLSBURG — The Brooke County Commission, during its meeting Tuesday, announced it has severed ties with its economic development authority, which plans to reinvent itself as a separate nonprofit organization.

While offering his blessing to the new group, Commission President A.J. Thomas said the move was made at the recommendation of the state auditor’s office.

Over the years, the volunteer board has used a mix of public and private funds to hold events such as the Entrepreneurial Pitch, in which area entrepreneurs compete for prize money to aid in launching or expanding businesses.

The commissioners have agreed to allow the group to use any remaining county funds allocated by them to seek the nonprofit status and for any efforts benefiting the county’s residents, organizations or businesses.

Thomas said $10,000 allocated for the group came from a county economic development fund established with in lieu of tax payments made by Pennsylvania Fashions, now known as rue21, which has an operation in Weirton.

The fund also has been used for membership fees for the commission in the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, which it earlier designated the lead economic development agency for the county; and the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, whose Brooke-Hancock Development Council also has pursued economic development for it.

Thomas said the group would benefit from a nonprofit status because it could accept tax-exempt donations for its endeavors.

Larry Swanson, chairman of the former county economic development authority, said the group plans to revive the Entrepreneurial Pitch, which was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Swanson was asked about past plans to create a business incubator in a vacant Follansbee building.

He said rather that pursue a brick and mortar location where new businesses may operate temporarily rent-free, the group may look into assisting entrepreneurs in doing business from their homes.

In recent years businesses participating in the Entrepreneurial Pitch received aid in developing business plans that may be used in seeking private financing.

Swanson said the group would like to provide that type of assistance with help from local professionals, colleges and other schools.

He added, “We will probably expand our sphere of activity to include the Tri-State Area.”

In other business:

¯ Scott Adams, chief Brooke County sheriff’s deputy, said he, Sheriff Richard Beatty and others met with representatives of Southwestern Energy recently to report concerns about truck traffic and came away optimistic the company will work with them to address those concerns.

Thomas said the meeting was called after someone posted a video of a large truck repeatedly crossing the center line of a local road and others complained about truck traffic there.

Adams said the sheriff’s department will be patrolling Mahan Lane, Allegheny Street, state Routes 27 and 88 and 49 Hill Road to ensure trucks and other vehicles are driving safely.

¯ The commission observed a moment of silence for Follansbee City Manager John DeStefano, who died Monday following a lengthy recent illness.

Thomas said DeStefano, also a former city councilman, was “a dedicated public servant for many years” who will be missed by Follansbee and Brooke County.

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

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