West Virginia is Steady and Energized for the Future
28 Nov, 2012
By David Hodes
As with other Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states such as New York and Pennsylvania that are experiencing a growth surge from the Marcellus Shale development and the huge natural gas source it represents, West Virginia is witnessing its share of energy business development and all the associated activities involved with it. “There’s no question that natural gas development is the biggest multiplier in the region,” says Keith Burdette, secretary for the West Virginia Department of Commerce and executive director of the West Virginia Development Office. “The supply sources and trucking operations for one thing, and there is just a huge amount of collateral development associated with all that, such as building roads and hiring workers”.
That shale development has been great news for all Mid-Atlantic states. But West Virginia held its own economically over the recent downturn, he says, unlike other nearby states. They have been able to balance their budgets and cut taxes for the last three or four years, Burdette says.
The budget presented by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin during his State of the State address in January contained no new taxes and no tax increases. Instead, it provided for nearly $80 million in tax relief through reductions in the sales tax on food, business franchise and corporate net income tax. “The cost of doing business here is going down, and workers’ compensation rates have lowered since we privatized the system in 2006,” Burdette says.
Additionally, in July, Gov. Tomblin announced that the National Council on Compensation Insurance filed a reduction in workers’ compensation loss cost rates with the West Virginia insurance commissioner, proposing an overall decrease of 9.1 percent, effective November 1, 2012.
This filing will result in projected premium reductions of $37 million for West Virginia employers and an annual overall premium savings of $207 million resulting from the 2006 workers’ compensation reform. This follows the recently announced reduction in the workers’ compensation regulatory surcharge from 5.5 percent to 5 percent, which will result in further cost savings to West Virginia employers.
Burdette says that the governor is concentrating his work on the needs of business specifically with a variety of tax credits to offset almost all of the state taxes depending on the jobs they create. “We also have a large list of job training incentives that we provide on a regular basis,” he says.
Industries and Innovations
Recent news demonstrates how the state’s steady finances have helped businesses grow with a focus on helping grow or expand businesses that are already in the state.
Gestamp, an $11 billion international company, announced in April that they will create hundreds of new jobs and invest a minimum of $100 million at the 922,000-square-foot former stamping plant in South Charleston. Gestamp is a leading supplier for Volkswagen, Renault-Nissan, Peugeot-Citroen, Daimler, General Motors Corp., Ford, Chrysler, Hyundai and Toyota, among others.
Amazon.com expanded and consolidated smaller sites in the area into a new 70,000 square foot East Coast call center in Kinetic Park, Huntington that opened in late 2011, creating 200 jobs. FBI Biometrics Technology Center under construction in Clarksburg will create 1,200 new FBI jobs and 160 Department of Defense jobs.
Since Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia in Buffalo first broke ground for its West Virginia plant in 1996, it has expanded six times, representing an investment of $1 billion. The latest addition announced in 2011 will create 80 new jobs.
Marc Sprouse, president of the Huntington Area Development Council (HADCO), says that HADCO spends a fair amount of time on existing business development simply because there is not a lot of activity otherwise as far as new projects. “We worked with some existing companies helping them find a new building or equipment financing,” Sprouse says.
Most of their efforts have been in retention and expansion in the area. For example, Alcon Research Ltd. recently expanded its medical device manufacturing facilities in Cabell County with a new 101,000-square-foot facility at the HADCO Business Park. HADCO also recently acquired a 55-acre site adjacent to the business park for additional expansion.
Talent and Education
New academic investments in Huntington include the 15,000-square-foot $4.2 million Marshall University Forensic Science Center Addition and Biotech Incubator that was completed in 2009. The university offers a Masters of Science in Forensic Science degree that is fully accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Science’s Forensic Educational Program Accreditation Commission.
In addition to the 175-year-old Marshall University, Huntington is also home to Mountwest Community and Technical College and the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing, among others. The Robert C. Byrd Institute has provided access to cutting edge technology and technical training to manufacturers and entrepreneurs across the region for more than 20 years, operating advanced manufacturing technology centers in Huntington, Charleston, Bridgeport and Rocket Center in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle.
The Institute is one of five partners — along with the Marshall University Research Corp., TechConnect West Virginia, the Concord University Research and Development Corp., and the National Capital Investment Fund — that is launching a $1.3 million effort to create new jobs in southern West Virginia.
The Huntington area has been a stronghold for manufacturing enterprises, and to that end, Sprouse says that the Institute in Huntington working with Marshall is a good manufacturing workforce development resource. “They purchase pieces of sophisticated equipment used in manufacturing, train people on them and also allow smaller companies that can’t afford the equipment come in and use it,” Sprouse says.
Huntington has historically been a shipping point for coal mined in the state.
The Port of Huntington-Tristate is the largest inland port in the United States, both in terms of total tonnage and ton-miles. This is due in large part to the coal traffic from the railroads and the petroleum products produced by the Marathon Petroleum Corp. oil refinery in nearby Catlettsburg, Ky., that use the Port of Huntington-Tri-State to load their products onto barges.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, new highways are being planned for the state to make adjacent counties and states more accessible to businesses in the south and southwest portion of the state.
One of those highway projects, the Tug-Ohio-Levisa-Sandy-Improvement Association (TOLSIA) Highway will be the northern half of a proposed project to replace existing West Virginia Route 52 between Huntington and Bluefield, with the southern half of the project, from Williamson south, designated as the King Coal Highway. The new TOLSIA/King Coal Highway would be part of the proposed I-73/I-74 corridor that would extend from southeastern Michigan to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
TOLSIA, extending between Huntington and Williamson for 58 miles, will be a four-lane, divided, partial-access highway, costing approximately $866.6 million. This increased accessibility will benefit the travel and tourism industry in the area. Currently, 25.8 million people reside within an eight-hour drive of the area. After improvements, 44.9 million people will be within that same driving distance.
Jefferson County is a 212-square-mile area on the state’s eastern panhandle that is much like many other areas of the state — very rural with a close-knit relatively small population of around 55,000. Much of the population works outside of the county, which is considered part of the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area. One of the main employers is Charles Town Race Track, opened in 1933.
John Reisenweber, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, says the area is a wonderful community to work and live. “The cost of living is affordable compared to our surrounding jurisdictions, such as Washington, D.C.,” he says. “We have a much more reasonable pace if you will but still with proximity to Baltimore or D.C. to take advantage of the amenities of a big city.”
Reisenweber has season tickets to the Baltimore Orioles and other residents have season tickets to the Washington Redskins. Both venues are about an hour and half drive from where he lives. “We don’t have the traffic congestion but we do have a beautiful setting and great recreational opportunities,” Reisenweber says. “But it doesn’t take me 30 minutes to get to a grocery store.”
Reisenweber says he can be in Pittsburgh in three-and-a-half hours, Richmond in two hours and downtown New York in three-and-a-half hours. “So we have the best of both worlds here,” he says.
Reisenweber says that if they can continue to grow jobs in the community that are higher paying professional jobs “in a manner that doesn’t alter the landscape and the unique setting,” they will be successful. “I do believe that we have an opportunity to grow our manufacturing sector.”
West Virginia is a state that remains steady in its financial dealings and continues to seek job opportunities. Its ideal location on the Mid-Atlantic and with access to major metropolitan centers is an attraction that the state is building on as more and more entrepreneurs find a university system designed to help them get ideas into products or services quicker and more efficiently. Together with new discoveries and efficiencies in extracting natural gas, the state is poised to do more than just hold is own.
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Down to Business
West Virginia is one of only eight states to add tech jobs in 2010, according to TechAmerica Foundation’s 14th annual Cyberstates report. The largest gains were reported in Michigan (adding 2,700 jobs), the District of Columbia (1,400 jobs), West Virginia (400 jobs), Utah (400 jobs) and South Carolina (300 jobs).
The state has an abundant water supply, with most areas providing in excess of 250,000 gallons per day of water capacity. Water is a critical component in energy-dependent operations such as back room, call centers and data centers plus natural gas extraction and petrochemical processes.
West Virginia closed its 2010 fiscal year with a surplus of more than $102 million — the fifth year in a row with a surplus without a tax increase. Additionally, through the first six months of fiscal year 2011, West Virginia was $160 million ahead of projected tax collections.
Outdoors and Recreation
West Virginia ski resorts like Canaan Valley, Snowshoe Mountain, Winterplace, Oglebay and Timberline offer a variety of activities for all ages and skill levels. Canaan Valley for example boasts 76 slopes and trails, seven lifts and a tubing park at two of West Virginia’s premier ski resorts — Canaan Valley Resort State Park and Timberline Four Seasons Resort.
Illustration by Pixomar at Free Digital Photos. net