Getting the attention we need to rebuild

Our area is slowly rebuilding itself, and more people from outside of the Ohio Valley are taking notice.

There aren’t going to be any major industrial operations employing several thousand individuals. Instead, the hope is to have numerous, smaller operations providing new types of jobs. If you have 100 or 200 jobs in one building, and 300 in another, eventually it begins to add up.

Some businesses, including a few international operations, are taking notice. Those in Charleston and Washington, D.C. are continuing to watch and paying closer attention.

That’s part of why Weirton was selected for the recent Regional Economic Diversification Summit. Only a handful of these summits have ever been held, so Weirton being able to host such an event really is a big deal.

The summit was a two day event, bringing together representatives of various federal and state agencies, development groups, local government officials, property owners and many others.

As part of the opening day, I was permitted to accompany summit attendees on a tour of the city. Piling onto buses from Weirton Transit, it was primarily a rolling trek through Weirton, first going back into the Three Springs Business Park to get a quick look of the construction at the Pietro Fiorentini site, then down U.S. 22 and up Main Street through downtown Weirton.

The main focus was on the property now owned by the Frontier Group of Companies as we drove through — and occasionally stopped at — areas which once were part of Weirton’s steel-producing glory. That included the basic oxygen plant currently going through demolition. Standing under its shadow, looking down at pieces of scrap metal cut from its insides, it was hard not to think about how at one time that BOP was considered the mill ofthe future. It was hard not to imagine all the steelworkers who spent their days in that building, playing their part in the process of keeping America going.

We rode through parts of the north end of the city and then across to Brown’s Island.

It’s rare for everyday citizens to walk those grounds, unless they were steelworkers. Few local journalists have been given the chance. This was an opportunity I doubt I will ever have again, so I truly appreciate the organizers allowing me to tag along.

Even the properties being dismantled, you can look around and get a sense of what has come before, and it’s something that can still make us proud. That’s something we should never lose in the Ohio Valley. That sense of pride of being steelworkers, or being a part of a steel-making family will always be with us, even when another type of industry takes its place.

The second day was a series of roundtables focusing on topics such as economic development, workforce development and transportation.

There are obstacles being faced in each of those areas, according to local officials, and the discussions held during the summit will, hopefully, assist in jumping over those hurdles and helping us grow.

A lot has been done in the last several years to lay the groundwork for the future of our area. We’re heading down a good path, and many tasks once thought impossible have been accomplished.

Groups are working together where once they would each have been following the same leads more as competition than a team. Contacts are being made domestically and internationally, around West Virginia, throughout the United States and across the world.

It has taken years to get to this point, and it will take many years to get to a point where many feel we should be, but we are well on the way.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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