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A continued focus on growth in our area

Our area was visited Thursday by an individual who could be considered as among the upper echelon of political power in the state of West Virginia.

Ed Gaunch has been the state’s secretary of commerce since January, taking the reins of a section of our state government which oversees West Virginia’s Development Office, the Division of Forestry, Division of Labor, Division of Natural Resources, Rehabilitation Services, the state Tourism Office, Workforce WV, the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, as well as the state’s Geological and Economic Survey team.

That’s a lot of critical operations, and much of it is focused on one area — our state’s economy.

Gaunch was here to visit with some of our industrial leaders and economic development officials, taking tours of three local manufacturing facilities in Brooke and Hancock counties to see first-hand how they are operating in today’s business climate.

Jupiter Aluminum came to the Ohio Valley six years ago, setting up shop in part of what previously had been the Wheeling Corrugating plant in Beech Bottom. The company has been able to grow its own business at the location, while also investing in a way that has helped to attract other companies to the Beech Bottom Industrial Park.

Eagle Manufacturing has been a local success story for many years. Sitting in the heart of downtown Wellsburg, the company has seen numerous expansions and new product lines in recent years, helping to drive the community’s economy.

In Weirton, Bidell Gas Compression has been up and running for less than two years, but there has been talk of possible expansion there as well. The company, whose headquarters are in Canada, was among the first to establish itself on former Weirton Steel property after it was sold to the Frontier Group of Companies.

Gaunch recognized the efforts of these, and other, industries to make the Ohio Valley home. Speaking with him Thursday morning, he referred to these efforts as a type of renaissance, noting that while we no longer have the size of the steel industry for which we were known, other operations are beginning to fill that void.

The state’s Commerce Department, through its various operations, has made a number of its own investments in our area’s economy, through an allotment of financial assistance packages to clean up and prepare brownfields for new development.

From what the secretary said during his visit, it is apparent he has every intention of seeing those partnerships continue.

During his visit, Gaunch also noted the importance of realizing that not every part of West Virginia can be treated the same.

Our area won’t attract the same types of businesses as the Eastern Panhandle. Tourism may not be as focused on the Northern Panhandle as it is the southeastern parts of West Virginia, which is heavy with state parks and outdoor recreational opportunities.

He also encouraged a regionalized approach, looking at the Northern Panhandle counties as having opportunities to work together to attract jobs instead of being in competition with each other.

We are close enough, in many cases, that what happens in Weirton affects both Hancock and Brooke counties, operations in Wheeling can provide jobs for people in Wellsburg, Moundsville and beyond — even across our state borders into Ohio and Pennsylvania.

We have educational and training centers which have the potential to reach thousands of residents, providing opportunities to learn new skills for new jobs.

Much of this is the same as we’ve been hearing from our local leaders for some time. It is good, though, to actually hear it from someone in Charleston, where they sometimes tend to forget our part of the state exists.

(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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