Work to find the vision for our valley

Our Ohio Valley continues working toward its rebirth.

The history of our area, and its economy, has gone through many phases, from sparsely populated frontier, to the growth of forts and settlements, to the agrarian communities to the early and modern industries.

Its population has risen and fallen, as new jobs were created new people came for the opportunities provided.

We’ve all seen the difficult days of the last several years, as more of the valley’s — and the nation’s — manufacturing centers have fallen by the wayside. These companies provided a livelihood for millions of families over the years, but as a result of numerous influences have dwindled.

While some of these sites have provided opportunities for great photographs (taken from safe locations while not trespassing, or course) it was only a matter of time before something new would take their place.

Where fields of steel plants once stood, belching out smoke and producing the slabs and coils that would be our region’s life-blood, plains of rust and fallen-down buildings now stand. Those that continue to operate employ much smaller numbers of individuals.

Then, the discovery of mass vaults of natural gas brought hope for our area as another industry began making its way back to the Tri-State Area, focusing on a much greater portion than before.

The landscape is transforming, making way for a potential rebirth of the Ohio Valley. It is going to be much different. Buildings which have seemingly always existed in some of our towns are disappearing, making way for new facilities and new jobs.

We may not have that one major employer to take care of an entire town, but the hope is several smaller operations will be able to make similar contributions.

We’ve watched as some of the landmark facilities have started to come down in Weirton, for example, but the same has been true in Chester with the former Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery land. The property for Brooke Glass in Wellsburg also has seen changes.

Dilapidated buildings are coming down to make room for new businesses and homes, with the hope they can attract new people who will then live, work and contribute to our communities. That will create more growth and possibly attract more businesses.

We are slowly seeing a new vision being formed, something to provide a map toward a possible future for the Ohio Valley. Over the last year, for example, Weirton has updated its comprehensive development plan, with hundreds of residents providing input.

That’s exactly what our entire region needs.

The problem we’ve had, and one many ignored for years because of the benefits, was that only a couple of groups or businesses took the lead. A couple of large employers wielded their influence to determine what went where, but that was OK because they made sure our streets were clean and people were fed.

The people of our communities have more opportunity to shape how things will be. The former TS&T property, for example, was redeveloped with input from Chester residents. Town halls have been held by development groups in communities up and down the Ohio River to formulate ideas.

There has been more communication among our communities, and those outside of the Ohio Valley, than we’ve ever seen. We’ve been sharing ideas, looking at what has worked and what hasn’t and learning more about what can be done and how to formulate plans.

That’s exactly as it should be. These are our homes and it should be our vision that helps to shape them. Good developers respect that and work with the people of a community. Good businesses don’t stop opportunities from coming.

It’s about teamwork. It’s about finding and developing a vision with multiple components and looking outside of what has always worked. You can’t have growth in your town without being willing to grow yourself.

(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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