PINEVILLE - West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch made a visit to Wyoming County Tuesday.
Gaunch, appointed to the post seven months ago by Gov. Jim Justice, was in the county as part of his ongoing series of visits he termed as a "listening tour."
"I grew up in Boone County and I have passion in my heart to do special things south of the Kanawha River," Gaunch said.
Gaunch addressed a group that included the Economic Development Authority and other county officials at the 911 Center.
Prior to that, he toured the two industrial parks in the county.
Gaunch said his idea is to develop regional strategies and wanted to get an idea of what was going on in Wyoming County.
"We need regional strategies for economic development in West Virginia," Gaunch said. "Every area is different. It (the strategy here) can't be the same as it is in the Ohio River region or the high-tech corridor in Fairmont."
He said he wanted to convene a group to "develop strategy to take the area with us as we move the state forward."
Among the items the mentioned were more four-lane highways to bring business and tourism into the county, better sewage and water facilities and expanded broadband.
The Coalfields Expressway from Beckley to Mullens is due to open in the fall, and that will give Wyoming County its first four-lane highway.
The broadband choices in the county are two, and neither has proven to be a caliber that would allow businesses, moving ever closer to operating with the Internet, to the area.
Christy Laxton, who, along with Mike Goode, accompanied Gaunch on the tours of the industrial park, said the broadband at those sites is good, but in other areas and at private residences, it is still lacking.
"I have trouble opening a Facebook video with (the video buffering)," Laxton said.
Gaunch also heard from several local officials in attendance.
Assessor Matt Cook told Gaunch that "Coal is what drives this county, there is no denying that. Coal is our survival as long as legislation doesn't prohibit it."
He said that 85 percent of the county is owned by out-of-state land owners, which puts the county behind the proverbial eight-ball in some instances.
Dr. Sam Muscari said his family owns six clinics and employs over 100 people, and he wants to see more business in the county.
"Tourism is fine, but it is seasonal," he said.
The National Coal Heritage Area Authority director Christy Bailey said tourism needs a shot in the arm. For instance, more things to do and better places to stay.
Jim Cook, from the town of Oceana, mentioned his town's water woes and the lack of available grants.
"If we have to pay for it, it will get done; because we have to have it, it's got to be done," Cook said, but mentioned that grants would help. The town has tried for several, but has been turned down.
County Commissioner Randall Aliff said better highways in the county might entice people to move places where the lifestyle was more laid back.
Gaunch also visited Raleigh County on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
"Southern West Virginia has suffered more from the downturn in the coal industry than many other areas of the state," Gaunch said. "We've seen a little resurgence in the coal industry. We're here to talk about how to diversify this economy so they aren't as dependent the next time we have a downturn in the coal market."
Dean Meadows, the director of the 911 Center who also works on the flood plane committee, noted that over 130 properties have been mitigated since the devastation from the 2001 flood. Those properties can no longer be built upon.
Gaunch said he panned to continue his fact-finding listening tours.
"Under Governor Justice's leadership, we have been putting an emphasis on getting out and meeting the wonderful business owners and employees who each play a critical role in keeping the state running," Gaunch said. "These hardworking people are the reason why we've been able to build up so much momentum in West Virginia to help our economy grow and encourage even more businesses to locate here."