Stein Unveils Chamber’s Development Plan
Lou Stein of Valley Ventures, Inc., unveiled the Economic Development Master Plan he developed for the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce Aug. 8 during a special gathering in the New Martinsville city building.
At a glance, Stein’s work involves charts, photographs, a “scoreboard”, and a thick report of about 80 pages he can use as a guide to help attract new businesses, guide entrepreneurs, and let the chamber see what needs to be done and what has been accomplished.
“They need to see the whole vision because it all has to work,” said Stein. The “scoreboard” is a board of vacant properties with important information about them. “My goal is sort of like coverall in Bingo–to assure all of these are done,” said Stein.
Unlike many master plans that are created by outsiders and sit on a shelf, Stein said he understands the area as he is from the Ohio valley. His plan is for the master plan, which he calls a fluid document, to be implemented in 24-36 months.
He also knows that “plans do not implement themselves.” That is why he has met with dozens of business people and entrepreneurs in Wetzel County.
“Currently I think I’m up to 50 clients already,” he said. “There’s a pipeline of activity; I just want you to know.” He pointed out that it takes 90-120 days to open a business.
“You can get a lot of good advice from Lou if you’re looking to start a new business or if you have an established business,” said Chamber President Don Riggenbach.
The plan identifies four focus areas: Wetzel Commerce Park, historic downtown, state Route 2 (primarily in Steelton), and the riverfront.
Stein said he can see what he thinks the community needs, but what the community wants must be factored in. He called the historic downtown area charming. “You’ve kept most of your historic buildings,” he said. “You have a lot of great businesses down there.” His goal for that area is for it to be a pedestrian area where people walk to the different facets of life they desire–shopping, eating, living, and entertainment.
“I know there will be room for new development downtown in buildings that may not even exist yet,” said Stein. At that point Riggenbach pointed out that floodplain limits some activity in that area. “You can build in the floodplain, you just have to elevate it so the Army Corp of Engineers is okay with it,” said Stein, who added that he has done new construction in other floodplain areas.
As for the Wetzel Commerce Park, formerly known as the industrial park, Stein said, “I think the commerce park suffered a little from benign neglect. This is one of the key areas to bring jobs in.”
He sees about 12 potential lots for light manufacturing, back office locations, and other uses, but not retail. Specifically, he envisions a mini office with warehouse space and self storage where businesses can keep overflow stock, etc. He said the latter is a powerful tool to entice business.
Stein is in Wetzel County one or two days a week, but the chamber has also hired Doug Patterson to assist in the development efforts. “We’re going to be pretty much interchangeable,” said Stein. To get free assistance call the chamber office at 304-455-3825.
“What my goal is, is to create success–make things happen, to make people understand this isn’t theoretical,” promised Stein.
Finally, he encouraged local business people, current and potential, to attend the upcoming Smallmart conference that the chamber is sponsoring.
Economist, attorney, and author Michael Shuman will speak to “Developing Wetzel County from the Inside Out: The Stimulus Road Not Taken,” on Sept. 8. The event will be hosted at the Lincoln Theater on Main Street, New Martinsville, beginning at 6 p.m. Thanks to a grant from the West Virginia Development Office the Chamber is able to host this event at a reduced cost of $25.
Call the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce at 304-455-3825 to purchase tickets. Seating is limited to 300.