Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce held its annual dinner Thursday night at the Pocahontas County Opera House. Area business representatives met to recognize outstanding service to the community, as well as celebrate another year of economic growth in the county.
Chamber president Bill Jordan introduced the Individual of the Year – Charles Sheets, of Green Bank.
Sheets may have retired in 2012 from ownership of the Sheets GMC dealership in Green Bank, but he is far from retiring from volunteering. Sheets has served in many capacities as a member of the Durbin Lions Club, the Arbovale Cemetery Association, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, Pine Grove-Arbovale Men’s Brotherhood and Durbin American Legion, as well as other organizations.
As he accepted the award, Sheets shared his shock and appreciation with the crowd.
“Really, what a surprise,” he said. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. There are so many people in this county that volunteer their time, and I’m just one of them.”
Sheets urged the crowd to patronize and visit the businesses in Pocahontas County to help support the place where we all live and do business.
“When you have a chance, support these people in business in Pocahontas County,” he said. “Pocahontas County is not an easy county to do business in. We had a lot of experience in Green Bank. That was a good ride, back in the seventies and eighties. We’ve lost a lot of jobs since then. So, when you see the local business people, thank them and support them and do what you can to support jobs in this county.”
Sheets also thanked his wife, Carolyn, who has supported his endeavors and was always on hand to be his spell-check when he wrote letters of any kind.
Chamber vice president Angela Hoffman introduced the Business of the Year – Inter-State Hardwoods.
Inter-State, located in Bartow, was founded in 1966 and employees between 140 and 150 individuals.
Through the years, the business has grown, including expanding its operation to the former Howes Leather Company property in 2002.
In 1992, the company opened a sales shop and warehouse in Norcross, Georgia, and in 2003, the Georgia office added a 60,000 square foot dual circle scrag mill.
In 2009, the business expanded again, with the addition of a west coast sales office in Los Angeles, California. Inter-State also operates a wood treatment facility in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, and a pallet factory in Hazelton, West Virginia.
Accepting on behalf of Inter-State was Allen Sisler, who thanked the chamber for the recognition.
“We do work hard at Inter-State to try to do a good product,” he said. “We try to expand when we can, and we’re working on that right now a little bit. We’re short on employees, so if you know anybody that needs a job, tell them to come on down. We have about thirty-five positions open right now.”
Jordan explained that nominations for individual and business of the year are open to anyone in the county. To submit a nomination, visit https://pccocwv.com/recognizing-community-involvement/
After the awards ceremony, Workman turned the podium over to County Commissioner Walt Helmick, who, fittingly, spoke about the lumber industry and the potential for growth in Pocahontas County.
“We see a bright future in Pocahontas County in the lumber industry,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be chair of forest management review, which is an oversight committee of the forestry industry in West Virginia. I was there for fifteen years. There were two counties I was interested in – Webster and, of course, Pocahontas. When we looked at the numbers – how many people were employed – we had 507 direct employees. That’s significant.
“So when we looked at the timber industry around the state – before the great recession – we had 31,000 jobs in the timber industry,” he continued. “That is direct. It’s dropped. Every county is looking for people to work. That’s the way it is. It’s all over the country and here, I don’t know how to turn this around, but it’s a challenge we have to accept.”
Helmick also spoke about the industries of the county that are continuing to strive and will grow even more over the years. The top two in his opinion are the healthcare and tourism industries.
“The one industry that hasn’t been affected is the healthcare industry,” he said. “We had the opportunity to expand the industry in the county. We’re working on a few things. We need to expand the industry throughout the county.
“It goes without saying that our tourism industry in this county is huge,” he continued. “We were the first county in West Virginia to pass the hotel/motel tax. The West Virginia Legislature passed the bill, then gave it to the counties and said ‘you can either adopt or not’ and we adopted it here in Pocahontas County. We could see that there was a significant opportunity. It carries so many things in this county – it’s important.”
Helmick reminded the crowd that the hotel/motel tax helped build the current Pocahontas Memorial Hospital facility.
As the former West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner, Helmick always has agriculture on his mind and said it is another industry that has an opportunity to grow even more in the county.
“There is a significant opportunity,” he said. “With the movement of Farm-to-Table, it’s there again. There’s so much we can do in West Virginia. Right here in this county, we have 14,000 tillable acres. It’s not only the sheep and beef that we can work with, but it’s the growing of crops.”
Helmick said that in 2018, West Virginia consumed $7.8 billion dollars’ worth of food, yet less than one percent of that food was harvested in West Virginia.
“There is a seven billion dollar opportunity, and we need to be part of that here in West Virginia,” he said.
Before closing for the evening, Helmick took a moment to recognize the late Ruth Morgan, who was instrumental in getting the Pocahontas County Opera House restored to what it is today. As he stood on the stage, Helmick – who was county commissioner at that time, as well – remembered Morgan’s passion for the project.
“Ruth was relentless,” he said. “She believed in restoring this building. She didn’t have any money – none of us did. The county commission didn’t have much either, but we believed in what she was doing and helped her throughout the years and as time went on, she was making progress.
“She worked hard at it and agitated me for several years – caused my hair to change some,” he continued, joking. “She was a special person. Ruth was certainly instrumental in what we have here tonight – such a wonderful place.”
Using Morgan as an example, the future of Pocahontas County will depend on passionate individuals and businesses who are willing to be ruthless in succeeding at their goal.
The event was sponsored by Pendleton Community Bank and featured musical entertainment by fiddler Jake Krack and a meal catered by Blue Roof Caterers.