A group of counties in eastern West Virginia have turned to West Virginia University to develop a strategic action plan for its future. WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research will lead a team of expert organizations who will prepare the plan in an effort to promote economic development in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands region. The plan will encompass Pendleton, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy and Mineral counties, which compose the Region 8 Planning and Development Council.
John Deskins, director of the BBER, which is housed in the WVU College of Business and Economics, said the need for this study stems to a significant degree from the closure of the Sugar Grove Naval Base in Pendleton County. The U.S. Navy decommissioned Sugar Grove in 2015 after 60 years of military activity there, mostly related to communications and information gathering.
While Deskins said the closure certainly had an adverse economic impact on the region, it was part of a larger problem.
“The base closure was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said, “as the Potomac Highlands region has experienced economic weaknesses for quite some time. However, developing a strategic action plan will offer an outline of necessary actions to promote the region and take steps to try to attract business.”
Eric Bowen, a research assistant professor at WVU’s business school and a BBER researcher, said the project represents a 10-month effort to devise a plan for the region.
“BBER is the lead partner in this project, and we have two other partner organizations at WVU,” Bowen said. “Project partners include the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center and the WVU Regional Research Institute. We think this team combines an array of top-notch experts to provide the long-term strategic action plan that the Region 8 counties need to move forward.”
Bowen went on to explain that there were different components to the project. “First, we propose to estimate the economic impact of the base closure itself on the regional economy. Second, we will assess workforce and educational requirements for promoting economic prosperity in the region. Third, we will conduct an assessment of existing economic development resources broadly. Finally, using the knowledge gained from parts one through three, we will develop a strategic action plan,” he said.
The plan will be designed to identify target industry sectors for economic development and provide prioritized recommendations for attracting and retaining a diverse base of business sectors. The WVU economists said the plan will be based on information gathered in focus groups, employer interviews, data analysis, asset mapping, workforce readiness assessment and market trends.
“We’ve brought together a multidisciplinary team from various areas of expertise because there are a lot of aspects to cover,” Deskins said. “Historically, this is a region that has experienced economic difficulties, so it’s important to have project team members who can meet the tasks identified by the Region 8 Planning and Development Council and the five county development authorities.”
Region 8 Planning and Development Council Executive Director Terry Lively said that funding for the project came from a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to the Pendleton County Commission. While the Council is overseeing the comprehensive action planning process, Lively said that the project is a joint effort between governments and economic development officials in all five counties.
“The Council is fortunate to have partners like the Pendleton County Commission,” Lively said, “whose members realize that the local economy does not stop at the county line.”
Bowen and Deskins said that the team is working with community leaders in the region to gather data, which makes for a stronger action plan.
“Our plan is to have significant input from community and business leaders in the region,” Bowen said, “We expect to have multiple information-gathering sessions and to widely share our findings after the project is completed. Explaining the data we used to come up with this plan and making sure leaders and residents in the region understand it is an important part of all of this.”
CONTACT: Patrick Gregg
WVU College of Business and Economics
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