Southern West Virginia has a lot to offer companies looking for large-scale industrial sites. Situated in the heart of the eastern United States, the area offers a strategic location that’s within a day’s drive of half of the U.S. market without being in a congested population hub. West Virginia offers a ready supply of loyal, dependable workers ready to learn new skills as the state transitions away from an energy-based economy. And, elected officials have made creating a strong business climate a top priority and have had great success working toward that goal.
So what’s the problem? In short: a lack of flat land.
Those West Virginia hills make for ample recreation opportunities and gorgeous vistas, but can be a challenge when it comes to attracting major industrial development. The state’s terrain is perfect for natural resource extraction, but it can be a tall order for industries that want to construct large-scale factories and warehouses.
For the exception that proves the rule, look no further than the state’s eastern panhandle. There, wider valleys make industrial sites a little easier to come by. That’s where one of the world’s-leading consumer goods companies, Procter & Gamble, chose to build its future. P&G is characteristically disciplined about expansion; the Eastern Panhandle plant is only the second facility in the United States built since 1971. So, when they began redesigning their supply chain to distribute their products more efficiently, they were very cautious and selective. The location had to be perfect, and West Virginia met all the criteria.
Strong business climate? Check. Reliable workforce? Check. State officials willing and eager to help everything come together? Check. Large, flat site with rail, water, and interstate access? Check.
As exciting as the P&G project has been for West Virginia, replicating that success has been difficult in the southern part of the state for the simple lack of flat sites. How can this land that was so perfect for coal extraction be dedicated to other uses?
In response to this challenge, West Virginia Governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, has taken a proactive step to target surface-mined lands for reuse as sites for economic development. These sites are located out of the flood plain and are already largely flat and ready for development. This vision quickly came together as Governor Tomblin explored the development of an expansive former mine site near his hometown in the southern region of the state.
During his State of the State address in January 2016, Governor Tomblin announced plans to develop the largest speculative land deal in West Virginia’s history at the former Hobet surface mine in Boone and Lincoln counties. With 12,000 developable acres, Rock Creek Development Park will be able to host large scale commercial, residential, recreational and industrial development projects.
“Rock Creek Development Park is poised to become a hub for industrial, commercial and residential development,” Governor Tomblin said at a press conference announcing the name of the park.
The property covers nearly 19 square miles and is approximately the size of the state’s second-largest city, Huntington, and is large enough to fit all of the major economic development projects in West Virginia’s recent history—including Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Macy’s and Amazon—with thousands of acres left over. The area is already home to dozens of companies with capacity to support industrial activity, and skilled laborers that once supplied the mining industry are now actively transitioning to apply those skills to defense, aerospace, and other industries.
Rock Creek Development Park is well-situated to give businesses quick access to transportation, labor and markets. The property is 25 miles south of the state capital of Charleston, near a major regional airport and within a sixty-mile radius of a 400,000-strong workforce. The site is currently served by an existing CSX rail line and within easy reach of Interstates 64, 77 and 79. The property already has a large power grid and initial gas lines, and the state plans to add utilities and extend fiber optic telecommunications service to the site.
The West Virginia National Guard has already signed on to become the site’s first tenant. In October 2016, joined by West Virginia Department of Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette and Adjutant General James A. Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard, Governor Tomblin announced that the West Virginia National Guard has made an initial investment in the park for a three-pronged seed project. The National Guard will expand its national vehicle maintenance work to the site, increase training, and develop new agricultural operations that include apple trees and greenhouses.
The West Virginia Department of Commerce is marketing Rock Creek Development Park to potential investors and has contracted with outside consultants on long-term strategic planning for the development of the site. Through a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, consultants are analyzing demographics and market trends to identify the best investment opportunities for the park, while also mapping out plans for infrastructure and design.
West Virginia is a plum spot for companies that want to reduce overhead costs. Property costs in West Virginia are significantly lower than in urban centers, as are the costs of professional services like human resources, accounting, and legal counsel. Those factors combined with low electricity rates and a pro-business tax climate make the cost of doing business in West Virginia tough to beat.
Development of the Rock Creek Park site has the potential to revitalize southern West Virginia. The strategic planning team to implement the vision for the park includes federal and state agencies, Marshall University, West Virginia University and the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund. Members meet regularly to discuss progress and outline next steps.
A State of Advantages
Businesses can combine the amenities of Rock Creek Development Park with the advantages West Virginia offers:
- Strategic location within an eight-hour drive to half of the U.S. population and one-third of the Canadian market
- Cost of doing business below the national average
- Workforce with a reputation for high productivity and low turnover rates
- Financial assistance for workforce development programs, such as the Governor’s Guaranteed Work Force Program, which provides reimbursement for custom training
- Cooperative partnerships between industries and West Virginia’s community and technical colleges, and nearly 150 new specialized education and training programs
- Home to the Heartland Intermodal Gateway, an advanced road-to-rail terminal in the center of the Heartland Corridor
- Quality of life, with safe communities, low cost of living and wild, wonderful outdoor recreation opportunities that range from golf to whitewater rafting
Are you ready for Rock Creek Development Park? Visit RockCreekWV.com today.
Visit http://www.expansionsolutionsmagazine.com/west_virginia_ed for local economic development office directory listings.