The word “vision” is not often used to describe economic development in rural West Virginia. But that is the word legislators from across the state used when they came to Mingo County and saw the economic development in the county.
“In human experience, we rarely see a true phenomenon,” Wayne County Delegate Don Purdue said. “But what I have seen here in Mingo County represents a true phenomenon.”
The group was led by Delegates Harry Keith White and Justin Marcum, and Steve Kominar, Executive Director of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority.
The tour showcased projects such as the Wood Products Industrial Park, the Mingo County Air Transportation Park, Twisted Gun Golf Course and Adams Fork Energy, the coal-to-liquid plant near Wharncliffe.
All the sites are located on mountaintop removal sites, using a long term plan that includes Post Mine Land Use (PMLU). The projects were the result of public-private partnerships where coal companies mine land, reclaim the property to suit development, and donate the land for development, saving taxpayers and investors millions of dollars for projects such as the King Coal Highway and Mingo County High School.
Roman Prezioso, Senate Finance Chair, who is from Fairmont, said the cooperation of entities to move the county forward was impressive.
“This is fantastic,” Prezioso said. “Up in the northern part of the state, we get a distorted view of Southern West Virginia. It’s difficult to build on mountains, a lot of people have a skewed vision. I am impressed with the community activity with officials.”
He said seeing the vision it took to accomplish so much in the county and the support for cooperative efforts makes it easier to find money “for people to help themselves.”
Harry Keith White from Mingo said vision is the key.
“People don’t have a clue what we have been doing down here,” White said. “I have been trying to bring the delegates down here to show them Southern West Virginia and PMLU. It is amazing what vision and 20 years of work can do. With people working together, you get things done.”
Senator Robert Plymale, who represents Wayne and Cabell Counties, heads the Rahall Transportation Institute. The Institute was key in developing the King Coal Highway and the Mingo County High School, said the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority “knows what they are doing.”
Sam Cann, a Delegate from Harrison County, said it was important to see the results of the work of the Legislature.
“We have passed legislation to assist with PMLU,” Cann said. “To be able to see the results is neat,” he said at the coal-to-liquid plant site.
“This is just in its infancy,” he said. “It has the potential to be so big. Its great the way companies, regulators and the community had the vision to see what is possible.”
Senator Ron Stollings from Boone County said Southern West Virginia is a net giver, meaning how much of the $450 million of tax severance money in the state comes from the Southern coalfields.
“We are having to use that money to reconnect places like McDowell County, because they did not have a plan for diversification,” Stollings said. “And diversification is synonymous with PMLU. This is about landing on your feet, it is about having a vision.”
Mingo Delegate Justin Marcum said he was proud to be able to showcase the county’s diversification.
“We have a strong economy,” Marcum said. “Everyone working together is moving Mingo County forward. A diversified economy is a strong economy, we can keep our mining jobs while we bring in manufacturing. We have long term vision.”
MCRA Executive Director Steve Kominar said he was glad to be able to show the legislators instead of just talking to them.
“I’m glad we finally got them down here,” Kominar said. “I can talk all day to them, but until you see something with your own eyes, you can’t really relate to it. I’m glad we got to show them some Southern West Virginia hospitality.”
Delegate Purdue said he would take back to Wayne County the feeling he got while touring the county.
“The spirit and energy I felt here is remarkably,” Purdue said. “West Virginia is not a dark place just because we our sky is not wide doesn’t mean we can’t see.”
Kominar said while the county has accomplished much, it is also a time to look forward.
“We can’t rest on our laurels,” he said. “We have done so much, but look where we can go.”