State of Wetzel County Breakfast Yields Many With A Positive Turnout
The 2017 State of Wetzel County Breakfast yielded a positive turnout – in number of people present at the breakfast and in the prognosis for the county’s future.
The event was hosted by Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce and Genesis Healthcare’s New Martinsville center, where the breakfast was held. Five keynote speakers, each representing a different aspect of the county, each spoke at an average of 10 to 15 minutes.
Brian Felici, CEO of Wetzel County Hospital, stated that he had been at his role since 2010. Felici said he believed he represented the most important community asset, being healthcare for the county’s people (hospital). He noted the hospital employs 225 individuals, the average salary being approximately $55,000.
The hospital yields 12 primary care providers, a certified trauma center, and more.
Felici spoke on the current state of healthcare, calling it “a mess.” He said the changes in health insurance are significant, and the future of healthcare is “uncertain.” Two of the hospital’s staff members work daily with patients’ insurance providers.
Yet, Felici also expressed optimism, referencing WCH’s recent affiliation with WVU medicine. Felici said with WVU’s purchasing power, WCH has saved a “quarter of a million dollars in two years.” WCH has also seen positivity from being able to access WVU’s IT support.
In another matter, Wetzel County Commission President Larry Lemon noted that his entity strives on issues such as: improve public safety, increase tourism, and better emergency response.
Lemon, elected to his seat in 2014, noted that one way the commission has worked to improve emergency response is through entering into an agreement with Air Evac Lifeteam. The commission paid the membership fee for each resident of Wetzel County. If a resident is flown by Air Evac, he or she is not charged for that transport.
“If it can save taxpayers money, and it can save lives, we are for it,” Lemon said of the commission’s partnership with Air Evac.
And speaking of partnerships, Lemon explained that a lot of the commission’s work involves partnerships and partnering with businesses and organizations.
One such partnership, in the county, would be with the sheriff department’s involvement in the county’s education system, through prevention resource officers. The commission has played a past role in the implementation of the PRO program. Lemon said the program has “really worked out well.” He said the law enforcement officers working in the schools have developed a good rapport with the youth.
Also, the commission has partnered with the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority for a countywide litter cleanup program.
“We’ve gotten careless with litter,” Lemon said.
Lemon said the solid waste authority took the initiative to pick up litter in the county. The first summer of the program, the authority’s workers picked up a total of 15 tons of litter. This initiative has involved different agencies at different levels, including the Department of Highways, Department of Environmental Protection, the solid waste authority, and the commission.
“Rarely do agencies coordinate well together,’ Lemon said of the collaborative effort which “makes the aesthetics of the county better.”
“We are proud to be associated with the cleanup,” he said.
Another task of the commission has been to fund the construction of new cabins at the county’s 4-H grounds. The three new cabins are used during 4-H camp and band camp, and Lemon noted that the previous cabins were approximately 75 years old.
Relatedly, in coalition with the Wetzel County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the commission has approved of a kayak/canoe public access. The commission is also looking to open new routes.
Lemon stated, related to the endeavor, that the local Walmart sold 500 kayaks last year.
“We are trying to promote tourism,” Lemon said of the access routes.
Commission President Lemon also addressed a few areas of concern for the county. For instance, he said in the past few years, the state’s legislature has talked about shifting the responsibility of road maintenance from the state, to the county.
“We have reservations about that,” he said, explaining that the issue has been brought up, but doesn’t possess traction just yet.
Also, the commission is concerned about the lack of broadband and cell phone service available to county residents.
“The commission believes it is totally unfair for residents to be treated as second class citizens,” Lemon said of residents who live in areas of the county without the services.
“We are trying to equalize that,” he said, noting that the commission has discussed the issue with federal representatives.
And also, the commission is concerned about the state of flood insurance for riverfront communities. Lemon said the commission is concerned that high flood insurance premiums are “stunting the growht of the county.”
Next, Greg Kozera of Shale Cresent spoke to the assembly regarding the oil and gas industry.
Kozera himself has been involved in the industry for 40 years.
Shale Cresent USA is an economic development initiative that describes itself as having “the potential ot be a game changer for Marietta… Washington County… and the Mid-Ohio Valley.”
According to Shale Crescent USA, it is “an initiative that is rooted in our geographic location in proximity to: The Marcellus and Utica Shale Plays…. one of the largest reserves of natural gas in the world, the lowest natural gas prices in recent memory, our proximity to over half of the U.S. population within a day’s drive, our access to water – an important resource in transportation and processing, a motivated and trained workforce, and an unsurpassed quality of life.”
Shale Cresent USA strives to attract new, high paying manufacturing jobs to the area by branding the region as the Shale Cresent USA.
Kozera spoke extensively on the possibilities related to the area’s supply of natural gas. He said that in 2016, the United States was one of the top five oil producers. He noted that, for months in 2015, the United States fluctuated in the top five. Ten years ago, the United States was not even in the list.
“Ten years ago, we were building facilities to import natural gas for us. Now, we are exporting.”
Kozera compared this region as being the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” stating that by 2020, the states of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania will account for 35 percent of U.S. natural gas production.
Kozera encouraged those in attendance to access the Shale Crescent USA website (www.shalecrescentusa.com), and “If you like what you say, my hope is you will talk to everyone that uses energy.”
“What you are sitting on is a gold mine,” Kozera said.
Kozera said the gold mine also “offers people hope,” as he referenced the area’s drug problem. He noted that those who might be feeling hopeless, without a job, can get a two-year degree in an industry-related field and have their debts paid off quickly with “a high-wage job.”
In another matter, Josh Jeffersion, of the Regional Economic Development Partnership, reported that his entity’s focus is to bring jobs.
Jefferson explained how RED strives to this focus by working with other entities such as the commission, state legislators, federal legislators, and businesses.
He explained that Wetzel County was at its strongest when plants such as Ormet, PPG, and Bayer were at full capacity. Those businesses have downsized, but with the oil and gas industry, “we are working with gas companies.” Jefferson said if a ethane cracker plant were to locate to the area, “that would be a game changer.”
“Economic development is a big thing, and we have strong partnerships and the future is bright for development,” Jefferson said.
“We don’t have a strong industrial base, but we are surrounded by industries,” Jefferson said.
Plus, “here we have small businesses, and RED works with them and the county.”
Jefferson explained that RED and the commission worked with the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley to give $5,000 grants to local businesses. So far, grants have been given to local businesses As You Wish, Susie’s Crafts, and the Flower Basket.
Lastly, Mara Boggs of United States Senator Joe Manchin’s office spoke to the breakfast attendees. Boggs has worked with for Manchin for five-and-one-half years. She is a United States Military Veteran, having spent 13 years in the United States Army.
One of the highlights of Boggs’ remarks dealt with an initiative Senator Manchin, along with United States Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) have taken to encourage the development and construction of the Appalachian Storage Hub. In a letter to Gary D. Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council of the White House, the senators encourage the development of the “world-class natural gas liquid (NGL) storage and distribution hub in the Appalachian region.”
The senators say the project would enhance “energy and natural security.”
The project would possibly attract up to $36 billion in new chemical and plastics industry investment and create 100,000 new jobs in the area.
The Hub would “create economic growth, workforce development, high-paying jobs, and more resilient supply chains.”
“The cumulative effect of these benefits would have an immeasurable effect on the economic revitilization of the region.”
In recapping Senator Manchin’s work, Boggs noted that Manchin’s office is available to help West Virginia residents in a number of ways.
Manchin’s office has worked extensively on casework for people having issues getting benefits, ilitary records, Social Security, Purple Hearts (for veterans), and more. Manchin is also recognized for working extensively on getting benefits for miners, and his office, according to Boggs, also works on numerous grants for firefighters, drug protection, and flood insurance.
Manchin’s office also hosts job fairs; Boggs noted that a job fair is anticipated to be held at Paden City High School on Oct. 22.
Jefferson, earlier in the program, had allauded Senator Joe Manchin’s team, stating that “you guys are everywhere.”
“I see your team everywhere. You have your finger on the pulse of the area.”
And notably, several representatives of Manchin’s office were in attendance at the breakfast. Mary Jo Guidi, Manchin’s Regional Coordinator, presented special recognition to Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce President Donald Riggenbach. Recently Donald Riggenbach had been recognized by the Small Business Administration’s West Virginia District as having the 2017 Family Owned Small Business of the Year.
Guidi read a letter from Manchin himself, which stated that the senator has a history in small business and knows about the “contributions.”
The senator thanked Riggenbach for his commitment and asked that he “please continue your efforts.”
And of the State of Wetzel County Breakfast, Guidi herself noted that it was “great to be here,” and the program was “very inspirational.”
Guidi said she has gotten to know the wonderful people of the area, while working at Manchin’s office.
“I love driving down here, and the view is absolutely beautiful, “she said.