PARKERSBURG - The Parkersburg area's retail businesses have remained an important part of the region's economic picture.
At its annual meeting in December, the Area Roundtable reported the recession has been a challenge for many area businesses.
Over the past year, unemployment in Wood County peaked at 11.2 percent in February 2010 and ended the year at 9.1 percent in December.
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Over the past year, unemployment in Wood County peaked at 11.2 percent in February 2010 and ended the year at 9.1 percent in December 2010.
The mission of the Area Roundtable has been to retain, improve and expand business in Wood County, Keith Burdette, former executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Authority who now heads the West Virginia Department of Commerce, said.
"Make no mistake, the past year has been challenging in many ways," Burdette told the Area Roundtable in December. "However, I believe challenge breeds opportunity.
"The bad news is the recovery has been a bit slow. The good news is we are seeing recovery every day and it is happening throughout this county."
West Virginia's top five largest private employers include retail giant Wal-Mart and grocery chain Kroger. Wal-Mart has remained the state's top private employer since 1998. Wal-Mart and Kroger have a number of stores throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley, which contributed to the two companies' overall ranking in the state.
Other companies have continued to strive and helped the local retail picture.
"Coldwater Creek has remained strong in spite of a very challenging retail climate," Burdette has said. "They continue to invest here, they continue to hire here and they have clearly established their company as a technological leader in warehousing and distribution operations."
Fenton Art Glass continues to strive and was recently featured on an episode of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs."
"Two years after its obituary ran, Fenton is still going at it in its Williamstown plant," Burdette told the Area Roundtable.
He also pointed out the renovation of the former Social Security Building on Market Street, ethnic restaurants opening in downtown Parkersburg and small retailers taking root in the community.
The Downtown Farmers' Market and the Taste of Parkersburg continue to grow and evolve. The Farmers' Market has completed its third season and each year has been bigger and more successful than the preceding ones, Area Roundtable officials said, adding attendance has remained strong for the Taste of Parkersburg, which completed its fifth year, as participation from restaurants and wine vendors around the region has continued to grow.
The Area Roundtable is working on retail developments as well as the armory/civic center project which could open more areas for development, Burdette has said.
"We have the capacity to promote idle under-used property right now," he said.
The city of Parkersburg and the Area Roundtable have completed the detailed master plan for utilization of the Fort Boreman property and completed a retail study with the Buxton Company to identify retailers would would fit the Parkersburg demographics and might be interested in participating in the proposed multi-use development on 180 acres adjacent to the Marrtown Road exit of U.S. 50. The Wood County Commission has agreed to participate and pledged at least $1.5 million towards the project.
Cam Huffman, the new executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Authority, said a number of large box retailers have been showing interest in the area and have made a number of inquiries. One has even sent representatives to the area.
"I think many companies are waiting to see what the economy does first," he said.
All businesses help contribute to the economic success of the area, Area Roundtable officials said.
"Expanding investments and generating more jobs in our community has a true 'trickle down' effect on every business, large and small, that calls Wood County home," said Jeff Forbes, chairman of the Area Roundtable, in his Chairman's Message in the Area Roundtable's Annual Report. "We work hard to encourage investment and to create jobs in our community and, in turn, we know that people who have good jobs spend money.
"They bank locally, shop locally and eat out locally.