Julia Roberts Goad
WILLIAMSON — The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority has been the driving force behind economic diversification in the county, bringing several industries to fruition. But up until now, much of the people of Mingo County have been unaware of those businesses.
MCRA has hosted tours for a group of legislators and a group of educators.
“We can tell people, and give presentations,” MCRA Executive Director Steve Kominar said. “But until you see it with your own eyes, there is no ownership.”
Leasha Johnson, Executive Assistant to Kominar, said many of the people on the education tour were not even aware of the Wood Products Industrial Plant.
“They immediately began asking what skills were lacking in the workforce,” Johnson said. “The teachers and administrators were very receptive to ways they could better prepare the workforce.”
Johnson said education was a key in economic development.
“I explained to them, in the same way that partnerships, infrastructure and transportation are key economic development tools, so too is education.”
Kominar reported about the tour of finance legislators fromt the West Virginia legislature.
He said the group saw the Air Transportation Park, the coal-to-liquid plant site, and Twisted Gun Golf Course, among other locations.
“I think we hit a homerun,” Kominar said. “Everyone left with a very good attitude about Mingo County and Southern West Virginia.”
“I think its very important that everyone is aware of what is going on in the county,” Sammons said. “I think there is going to be a demand for manufacturing moving back to the country, and I think we are in a position to take advantage of that.”
Sammons said people in the county don’t know about what is going on in the county, yet the county wants to attract global businesses.
“If people don’t know about it, then it never happened,” Sammons said.
Johnson said she had recently been to a conference, and much of what she learned was that site selectors are being used by companies to choose where to locate new locations.
Board member Robert “Doc” Foglesong said it has been his experience that while a location can offer ‘areas of excellence,’ such as energy costs, location and a labor pool, it was also important to know what a state will do to attract business.
Also at the MCRA Board meeting, Students with Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College’s Cotiga Appalachian Leadership Academy gave a presentation about attracting and retaining business in the area.
The Cotiga Fellows, Brittany Smith and Jamie Columbia, researched area businesses as well as businesses in other parts of the country. They interviewed businesses as large as BB&T and as small as the Tug Valley Inn. They found several obstacles facing local entrepreneurs and established businesses.
“People don’t know how to start a business,” Brittany said. “They are uninformed about maintaining a business.”
She said other negative factors affected business include lack of community pride, pollution, the effect of the recent downturn in the coal industry, drug abuse and the lack of skilled workers.. “People don’t want to get involved, they won’t join clubs or organizations,” Jamie said. “There are a lot of clubs in the community, but no one really knows about them, nobody talks about them to young people like us. We have never heard about them.”
The Fellows said they hope to, by the end of the semester, lay out some plans to deal with the problems.