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Stein Makes Strong Case For Future Development

By Staff | Feb 2, 2011

Valley Ventures, Inc. Executive Director Lou Stein shows an aerial photograph of downtown Steubenville, one of his most recent clients. That project is focusing on a 12-block area of downtown.

If their past record is an accurate indication, Valley Ventures, Inc., may be just what New Martinsville, and Wetzel County, needs to revitalize itself.

Executive Director Lou Stein presented an overview Monday evening of what he hopes to accomplish in four target areas of New Martinsville through a new partnership with the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce. The target areas are:

–historic downtown section of New Martinsville that includes the areas bound by Harlan Drive, Maple Avenue, Clark Street, and North Street to the Ohio River

–Steelton area, along state Route 2 from Rose Street to Riverview Plaza

–the industrial park, which he says should really be called a business or commerce park, on Foundry Street

Valley Ventures, Inc. Executive Director Lou Stein said he always keeps a scorecard of his current projects. This visual aid shows targeted vacant properties in Steubenville and the ones where a new business has opened (red) or a property is under development (yellow), are duly marked.

–the riverfront area (no specifics), emphasizing culture and tourism as important components

Stein used one of his most recent project areas, downtown Steubenville, as an example of what can happen in the local area. Before Valley Ventures began working with the Ohio city approximately one year ago, the 12-block area of Steubenville hadn’t had a new business in two-and-a-half years. The designated area had 171 storefronts, 48 of them vacancies. In the past year nine new businesses were opened and 12 vacant spaces are either leased or purchased and under development. Six more businesses fit those positive descriptions within a block or two of the focus area. “I want it to take on a life of its own,” said Stein.

“I’m not saying this is easy. This is hard work,” said Stein. “If it was easy, anyone could do it.”

Valley Ventures, Inc., started about four years ago when they thought there needed to be a hands-on results-oriented economic development organization. Too often, he said, master plans are created and they simply sit on the shelf waiting to magically come to fruition. “A development plan does not implement itself,” said Stein. Valley Ventures wants to develop a plan and help make it a reality.

“It doesn’t happen at random,” said Stein of putting the master plan into place. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle by looking at the big picture. He works with building owners, business owners, entrepreneurs (he noted there are potentially dozens if not hundreds in this community), contractors, investors, banks, and citizens who care about their town — all with the goal of implementing the master plan in two to three years.

This diagram of downtown Steubenville has properties color coded according to use or non-use. Valley Ventures, Inc. Executive Director Lou Stein pointed out that the gold buildings are vacant. “We still have a lot of work to do,” he admitted.

The process of creating the master plan is being funded by the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce, but virtually all of the other services Valley Venture offers are free. “For about 95 percent of what I do, there’s no charge for my services,” stated Stein.

Stein, a business development specialist and lifelong entrepreneur, is a commercial real estate developer by trade. Not only has that provided him with a variety of experience to use as a resource when helping others, but it is partially how Valley Ventures helps to underwrite its services which are free to potential entrepreneurs. The private, non-profit organization often invests in property in the area in which they are working so they can make money from that to pay for their services.

They also receive a small fee from businesses in their service providers network. It includes professional service providers such as attorneys, insurance agents, and the like who are screened by Valley Ventures and have a proven track record in providing skilled, affordable services.

“It’s not an exclusive list, it’s a narrow list,” offered Stein.

While the identified areas are within New Martinsville, Stein said he’ll help anyone in the county. In fact, he has already had conversations with entrepreneurs outside of the city looking for guidance for their ventures elsewhere in the county. He generally helps entrepreneurs get their business from idea to reality in 90-120 days. “It’s not just putting someone in business, it’s making sure that they’re successful,” added Stein.

Also, businesses do not need to be new to receive assistance from Valley Ventures. They also want to enhance existing businesses. Eighty-five percent of all job creation is small business development. “Whatever it takes for them to do more business, to enable them, hopefully, to hire more people, we work with them,” said Stein.

“What makes us really unique is everything I discuss with a client is totally confidential . . . I mean really confidential,” stressed Stein. In small towns, he said everyone knows everybody’s business and sometimes you don’t want anyone knowing what your financial statements, etc., look like.

Calling Wetzel County a “terrific community”, Stein said he sees tremendous opportunity here. While local residents may have a lot of frustration, anxiety, and unemployment, when outside people come here, they see opportunity all over the place.

One of his favorite sayings is, “If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” Wetzel Countians can control their destiny, particularly in respect to implementing the plan once it is developed. He was already encouraged by the attendance at the meeting held Monday at the New Martinsville City Building. Approximately 40 people were there.

Several filled out sign up sheets if they were interested in starting a new business, expanding a business, or owned vacant commercial property. Anyone who would like to contact Stein to discuss any of those possibilities or other involvement in the revitalization of New Martinsville and Wetzel County can call him at 304-748-1525. More information about Valley Ventures can be found at www.valleyventures.org.