Wood County still seeking business opportunities

Officials always on the hunt for development opportunities

PARKERSBURG — Wood County is continually looking at business development and trying to meet the needs of potential developers.

Lindsey Piersol, director of Wood County Economic Development, and Ed McDonough of the Wood County Development Authority, recently appeared before the Wood County Commission to discuss a variety of topics.

In the last quarter of 2018, the Wood County Development Authority had three potential businesses looking for around 10,000-square-feet of building space in the area, but they did not have anything available, Piersol said.

“We didn’t have anything so we tried to send them to contiguous counties, Jackson, Pleasants, Tyler … frankly they don’t have much either,” she said.

The businesses were looking for something in place with 18-22 feet ceiling heights and other access requirements.

Piersol said there are builders willing to build to suit, but many times the businesses want to be able to get into a space quickly.

“It doesn’t always fit into the time frame people are looking for,” she said. “Even if they can get them up in three months, people want something that is move-in ready or move-in and go.”

McDonough said there have been a number of businesses that have come in who say they need a building immediately.

“Some are not financially stable or their plans are not developed enough to act on,” he said.

Wood County Commission President Blair Couch said the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport is looking for someone to build a large hanger to accommodate the planes of their new airline, Contour, overnight. However, the airline’s current contract is for two years and such a building would take at least six months to construct. Officials are not sure if such a building could be viable without a long-term commitment.

Couch said the county would be interested in options that could spur development.

“Wood County would be interested in having things built, through public/private partnerships, that would bring in jobs,” he said.

One issue the county faces is there is not a lot of available flat land in the area to build on. Also, some of these areas don’t have a lot of utilities in place that would make a site more desirable.

Commissioner Jimmy Colombo said there is land to the east along U.S. 50. McDonough said there has been interest but no one has made the commitment yet. Some available land within Wood County has road and access issues with some parts only being serviced by a single-lane road.

Piersol said they have had businesses say they need something immediately but don’t do anything for several months and then come back to it.

“There are several prospects and leads right now,” she said. “It is just trying to put them somewhere that works.

“We don’t have a lot of (building) inventory right now.”

Commissioner Robert Tebay asked if the development authority had price availability from people who own some of the vacant factories in the area.

Piersol said they have the square-footage in their property database, but prices tended to have a wide range. People would have to come in, look at the available space and see if it could possibly meet their needs before discussing price, she said.

McDonough said those kinds of businesses know what they are looking for and what will meet their needs.

“If they are right for here, they will want to be here and they are going to negotiate the price,” he said.

Flattening land to be able to build on is also a possibility.

There has been interest from businesses looking to supply bigger industries in the area.

Officials talked about mentor programs and other things that could be done to encourage people seeking work.

Piersol said there are two manufacturers in Wood County who are looking to expand and they can’t find the people they need.

“They are looking towards automation,” she said.

Officials talked about recently announced businesses coming to the area including Hobby Lobby in the former K-Mart store in Vienna and Big Lots taking over the former Toys-R-Us space near the Grand Central Mall.

“Hobby Lobby is going to be a big draw,” Piersol said. “Many people are excited about that.

“Big Lots is going to be big too.”

County officials hope that they could have stickers placed somewhere on the trucks produced at the new Hino plant in Mineral Wells that said the vehicles were made in Wood County, West Virginia. They even talked about seeing what could be done to raise money to purchase such stickers if needed.

Piersol said there is now a need for more single family homes in the area. The area has many quality of life attractions such as restaurants, breweries and wineries. The new Starbucks location in Vienna as brought in people and many from outside the area have come to the Grand Central Mall to shop at the new H&M location.

Still, one challenge many businesses have in the area is finding qualified employees, officials said. Those include people who can’t pass a drug test to people who could lose assistance benefits if they make over a certain amount of money.

Since marijuana is becoming legal in so many areas, they can leave that off the list of substances to check for.

“That way they can still find opioid users, meth users, the people you definitely do not want,” Couch said.

Couch also wants to see something worked out where people at the Wood County Day Report Center could be trained to take on certain jobs there are openings for out in the community. The Day Report Center currently has around 120 clients.

“You have to have the employer who says they are willing to take the chance on someone,” he said. “If we can rehab someone out of their addiction issue, it would be awesome to have a local employer that was willing to partner in some way.

“You have to break the cycle.”