Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

At the annual Greenbrier Valley Economic Develop- ment Corporation dinner last Wednesday, GVEDC executive director Andrew Hagy reflected on all the strides made in economic growth in the region which includes Pocahontas, Greenbrier and Monroe counties.

The biggest reveal of the evening, which came at the end of Hagy’s speech, involved the Edray Industrial Park.

“Finally, after a groundbreaking sixteen years ago, I am pleased to announce that, yesterday morning, I signed a five-year agreement with KinFolk Farms, LLC, to lease our thirty-thousand square foot Edray building in Pocahontas County,” Hagy said. “As the first tenant in the building, KinFolk Farms is a local start-up business and is positioning to be a top producer of high quality, organic hemp. In the first five years, KinFolk Farms will create five full-time jobs and fifteen part-time jobs.”

Hagy added that KinFolk Farms – owned by R.W. Burns, Clay Condon and Adam Craten – plans to not only grow and produce its own hemp, it will also provide drying and processing services to the growing hemp industry in West Virginia.

Several other Pocahontas County projects have been developed in the past year, and Hagy reported that things are going well as old businesses grow and new business ventures are seeded.

“Interstate Hardwoods in Pocahontas County, located in another GVEDC property with one-hundred and forty employees, is working with us on a three million dollar expansion,” Hagy said. “We are working with Pocahontas County to support the proposed National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Underground Safety Research Facility. The facility will create twelve new jobs and fifty jobs during the testing periods throughout the year.”

The proposed research facility, if approved, will be located in Mingo.

The GVEDC has also worked on multi-county projects that involve Pocahontas County, including pursuit of better broadband services.

Just like public water and sewer, broadband is just as important to economic growth in the region,” Hagy said. “We are working closely with Regions I and IV planning and development councils to explore and identify solutions to improve and expand broadband throughout the region. We are also working with Pocahontas County and Citynet to pursue a five million dollar USDA Reconnect Broadband grant.”

Membership in the West Virginia Hardwood Alliance Zone is another partnership the GVEDC has created.

“Our new partnership and membership [HAZ] have elevated the national and international marketing efforts of the region,” Hagy said. “HAZ is a proactive fourteen-county regional marking organization. Their marketing plan and tools consists of a wood products business directory, website and attending national and international trade shows – such as the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta, Georgia, last fall – where the Greenbrier Valley region was represented.”

As for the rest of the region, Hagy shared the ups and downs Greenbrier and Monroe counties had in the past year.

The largest endeavor which will provide jobs in both counties is the West Virginia Great Barrel Company. Born after the devastating 2016 flood, the GBC is a new business which will build barrels using locally-sourced white oak.

“The state-of-the-art barrel company is truly making an economic impact on the entire region,” Hagy said. “The forty-two million dollar facility is now hiring and has received twelve hundred applications – I repeat – twelve hundred applications, for sixty jobs at the White Sulphur Springs facility and the thirty jobs at their stave mill in Monroe County. The eighty thousand square foot facility is now under roof and creating a hundred and ten construction jobs.”

Hagy also mentioned the following projects:

– A $1.5 million federal EDA grant to extend water services to the GBC, Greenbrier State Forest and 50 residences in the area.

– The I-64 business park with 18 acres of site-ready properties.

– Three Opportunity Zones for White Sulphur Springs and Ronceverte, in Greenbrier County, and Union in Monroe County. “Opportunities Zones are a new community development program established by Congress to encourage long-term investments in rural communities,” Hagy said. “This program provides a tax incentive for investors to re-invest capital gains into zones to spur new businesses, development and redevelopment.”

– The Sam Black Church I-64 interchange project which includes 60 acres of land for industrial development and attraction of new businesses and jobs. A conceptual master plan for the industrial site – named The Meadow River Valley Industrial Park – is in development thanks to a $15,000 Appalachian Power Economic Development grant.

– The Rahall Technology and Business Center is under renovation due to a $1.5 million federal EDA grant. The improvements will help retain 100 existing jobs and create the potential for 40 new jobs. The 140,000 square foot building is now 98 percent leased.

– Greenbrier Valley Brewery completed a $3.25 million expansion this past year which has increased production, sales and distribution, as well as creating five new jobs.

– Aviagen Turkeys recently opened one of two new state-of-the art facilities in Monroe County. The two sites will create 15 new jobs and $6.4 million in capital investment. The investment will secure more than 200 jobs in the region.

Along with the successes, there are sometimes downfalls and the GVEDC suffered a loss of a business.

“Unfortunately, we did take a punch in the gut this last year with the unexpected announcement of the closing of ABB at the end of the year – a loss of one-hundred and thirty  jobs,” Hagy said. “Fortunately, some of the jobs are beginning to be absorbed locally.”

The loss of ABB also led to the loss of a GVEDC employee Peggy Crowder, whose husband is an employee of ABB. The couple plan to relocate to Oklahoma where Crowder’s husband will continue working for ABB.

“On a footnote to the closing of ABB, we at GVEDC experienced a double gut punch,” Hagy said. “I’m sure everyone knows Peggy Crowder of our staff. For her work these past years and her great work on tonight’s annual dinner, I would like to ask everyone to show their appreciation and give Peggy a big round of applause.”

Hagy said the GVEDC is focused on the economic health of the region and hopes for great things in the future.

“Our number one mission is to attract and expand jobs and capital investment in the region,” he said. “Our main areas of concentration include existing industry, small business development, community and workforce development, and business attraction.”

Hagy turned the podium over to West Virginia University College of Business and Economics professor Dr. John Deskins, who gave a presentation on West Virginia’s economy – past, present and future.

Deskin spoke about the ups and downs West Virginia and the country, as a whole, have faced. In some instances – like job recovery – the state has rebounded quicker, but there are still some struggles facing the state.

The biggest hurdles for West Virginia include the ever present opiod crisis and lack of sustainable employment in rural areas.

Deskins spoke about the decrease of coal mining in the southern part of the state and how those counties are having a hard time rebounding.

Despite the struggles, Deskins sees an upswing in all areas as long as communities and industries work together to continue to attract new businesses and residents.

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