Vision of the Mineral County Development Authority
Click to View full PDF, or print, the MCDA Strategic Plan ("Vision")
Role of the Development Authority
The activities of the Mineral County Development Authority are regulated and restricted. In many cases, what the development authority can do and what it must do are determined by legal covenant, by contract, or by convention. The most basic of these rules is the West Virginia Code. The development authority exists as an arm of the county government under the laws set forth under §7-12 (Chapter 7: County Commissions and Officers; Article 12: County and Municipal Development Authorities). The rationale for the creation of development authorities and the main tasks that they are to undertake are outlined in §7-12-2 of the State Code:
The purposes for which the authority is created are to promote, develop and advance the business prosperity and economic welfare of the municipality or county for which it is created, its citizens and its industrial complex; to encourage and assist through loans, investments or other business transactions in the locating of new business and industry within the municipality or county and to rehabilitate and assist existing businesses and industries therein; to stimulate and promote the expansion of all kinds of business and industrial activity which will tend to advance business and industrial development and maintain the economic stability of the municipality or county, provide maximum opportunities for employment, encourage thrift, and improve the standard of living ofthe citizens of the county; to cooperate and act in conjunction with other organizations, federal, state or local, in the promotion and advancement of industrial, commercial, agricultural, and recreational developments within the municipality or county; and to furnish money and credit, land and industrial sites, technical assistance and such other aid as may be deemed requisite to approved and deserving applicants for the promotion, development and conduct of all kinds of business activity within the municipality or county.
The law also discusses the ability of the development authorities to own property, incur debt, and undertake other activities to encourage and promote economic development. Many of these actions are tasks that the County Commission cannot (or cannot easily) undertake directly because they do not have the legal authority to do so. It should be noted that the development authority is not a constitutional office or mandated activity. Thus, its local funding is solely dependent upon what the County Commission deems it can spend after funding other offices at levels required for their operation. Furthermore, the development authority does not make general governmental decisions; it can aid the County Commission and provide service to it, but it does not always have the final “say” on many matters related to community and economic development. In fact, the development authority has only one employee and must depend on a “working board” and partnerships (formal and informal) to accomplish its overall mission. Finally, the development authority is not charged with doing overall planning for the county, only planning for its development activities and its operations. Creation of a comprehensive plan is the responsibility of the Planning Commission, whose work must then be adopted by the County Commission. In Mineral County, this occurred most recently in 2011.
Mission of the Development Authority
The Mineral County Development Authority reviewed the mission statement as part of the strategic planning process. It decided the mission listed in the 2007 Strategic Plan generally described the work it did and desired to do. A single change was made – it was decided to use the word “citizens” rather than “clients” at the end of the statement. This shows that the MCDA works for everyone in the county, not just those that seek (or need to seek) its services. The new mission statement is as follows:
The MCDA seeks to develop Mineral County by promoting growth through responsible development and creating a welcoming climate for existing and new businesses and citizens.
The return to this mission statement (albeit slightly modified) also reflects a change from the broader statement listed as the development authority’s mission on its webpage. That statement is: “The mission of the Mineral County Development Authority is to enhance the welfare of all Mineral County citizens.” It was felt that this statement was not only too broad, but that it did not address the main function of economic development and that it could result in mutually exclusive objectives being put forth to meet the overall organizational goal.
Direction of Major Activites
The Mineral County Development Authority should concentrate its efforts in the coming years in four activity areas:
- Focusing Development Opportunities
- Encouraging Infrastructure Investment
- Promoting Quality of Life Enhancement
- Improving Internal Operations
By being selective in its activities, the development authority will be able to make better use of its somewhat limited resources while also having a large potential impact on economic and community development in Mineral County. In some cases, it can take action on its own to accomplish this. In others, it will need to get others to act to achieve its aims.
Each of the four activity areas has five goal areas. These goal areas have different priority levels – from immediate to long-term. These goal areas then have various objectives associated with them, providing instruction to the development authority on how to move forward.
FOCUSING DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES
There are many different ways to approach economic development. For many decades, development efforts emphasized industrial recruitment as an ever-expanding manufacturing base to meet consumer needs after World War II meant many communities vied to become the location of new factories and other facilities. As manufacturing capacity has become more globally distributed and the construction of new industrial plants to create additional capacity plants became rare, these recruitment efforts have increasingly emphasized the advantages of relocating existing industrial units. As competition has increased, success in this area has been harder to achieve.
Other efforts have focused on promoting businesses and individuals already in a community. Helping an already existing company expand, prosper, or just survive required less resources and had a higher success probability than trying to convince someone to locate in (or relocate to) in your locality. It also helped to prevent jobs from disappearing because the company was recruited away by another place. Likewise, there are often persons in a community who have a concept for and the desire to start an enterprise, but they may lack the resources or training to transform their ideas into reality. Supporting entrepreneurs and business start-ups can have great long-term benefits and create companies that are not only located in a community, but also have their “roots” in that place as well.
Additionally, economic development has expanded to include activities previously not given a great deal of attention/emphasis as part of development activities. Functions that were previously considered support mechanisms for the local economy or local residents – such as tourism and health care – have been recast as potential drivers of economic activity. As a result, development activities which built upon these rationally ignored sectors have become commonplace.
In reality, however, no one approach is sufficient. They are all necessary for a community to improve its economic conditions. That being said, it is not possible for one place to do everything. Instead, development efforts must be cohesive and focused. With the various activities working in concert with one another toward a common purpose that make sense in the context of that place, local economic development efforts are much more likely to have successful outcomes.
For the Mineral County Development Authority, this means looking inward before looking outward. Almost two-third (about 65 percent) of private sector employment in the county is concentrated in Manufacturing, Health Care and Social Assistance, and Retail Trade, the first two of which are sectors where development authority action can have a big impact. Four sectors make up the county’s economic base, the three listed above and Information. Not surprisingly, the county’s top 10 employers include three manufacturing firms, a hospital, a nursing care facility, a major national retailer, and an information company. This presents a picture of both what has traditionally worked as well as what may be missing in the county. Thus, there are development opportunities in enhancing (and protecting) what already exists in the county as well as potential in expanding into areas which are currently underrepresented in the county economy.
To that end, there are several goal areas for the Mineral County Development Authority.
Build upon Existing Base: The Mineral County economy is built around a few key sectors. Of the 10 firms with at least 100 employees, nine are in industries that are part of the county’s economic base. Four of the firms are found in Manufacturing (including the only company with more than 1,000 employees), three are in Health Care and Social Assistance, and one each in Retail Trade, Information, and Other Services (NAICS 81). Similarly, the top 10 employers in the county include three manufacturers – No. 1 Alliant Technology, No. 8 Lumber & Things, and No. 9 Automated Packaging Systems. It also includes Wal-Mart at No. 3, Potomac Valley Hospital at No. 5, IBM at No. 6, and Heartland Employment Services at No. 10. (The other three top employers were government agencies.) Thus, there is great potential to look inward for economic growth.
The development authority needs to take steps to ensure these components of the local economy persevere and prosper. One way to do that is by the development authority undertaking a Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) Program. This effort seeks to find out what firms need to stay in and build in the community in which they are located. While appropriate for businesses of all sizes, attention can be given to the special needs and concerns of larger firms and firms that make up the county’s economic base. Additionally, the development authority can work with the appropriate entities to ensure the cost of doing business is not prohibitive, that infrastructure meets the needs of business operations, and that a trained local workforce is available for new hires and replacement employees. This could entail working with potential partners such as the WV Development Office, the Mineral County Commission, WV Division of Highways, First Energy (Potomac Edison and Mon Power), municipal water/sewer providers and public service districts, WV Workforce Investment Board 7, and the Mineral County Board of Education as well as other enterprises and organizations. The aim would be to seek the assistance of these entities to help overcome issues that have or can cause pressure on these substantial economic operations. The end result would be to alleviate any existing (or potential) problem that might put these major employers into a position to have to seek relocation to ensure survival. Work on the BR&E programs can begin within 6 to 12 months, depending on the current status of such efforts in the development authority, and be periodic in nature. Work on the local economic climate should commence during the same period and have to be done continually.
Concentrate Recruitment: Opportunities to bring new businesses to Mineral County can be impactful. However, some firms may make more sense than others to target as part of the recruiting effort. The largest part of the economic base is Manufacturing which accounts for more than one-quarter of all private sector jobs in the county, including high-tech firms and wood product companies.
Regardless of the product, however, there are suppliers of materials for a manufacturing plant and there are finishers who take the product after it has been worked on in one place and add value to it through additional processing. This production chain begins with raw materials and ends with a finished product. What makes sense is to seek industries which complement the existing manufacturing concerns, particularly those further along the chain near the finished product. Those companies should be the focus of recruiting efforts since placing them in close proximity to the firms in the same production chain results in synergies and cost savings. The tasks for the development authority are to learn about the industry in which the prominent manufacturing firms operate; research their supplier networks and their product receivers; and then seek to entice these complementary industries to Mineral County. Work on the actual recruitment efforts will probably not be able to begin for 18 to 24 months. Prior to that time, the development authority will be fact-finding about the industries it plans to target and strategizing on how to best recruit these potential new firms.
Promote Business Creation: There are three times as many firms without employees in Mineral County (1,365) as there are businesses with employees (452). The receipts of the non-employee firms total almost about one-fifth the annual employee payroll for businesses with workers – roughly the same ratio of proprietorships to employees. Also, of the businesses with employees, half of them have fewer than five employees.
From this, it is apparent that small businesses and start-ups dominate the county economy. So it is crucial for the county to facilitate the creation and continuation of these enterprises. The development authority can be involved by entrepreneur support networks, provide support services to entrepreneurs, and establishing a micro-loan program for bridge financing. Work on these different activities will be spread over the next few years. The creation of networks can begin almost immediately as it requires only coordination. The services for business start-ups will vary depending on resource availability and specific needs. It will take about six (6) months to identify what is needed and another six (6) months or so to prepare to offer the needed services. Finally, setting up the parameters of a micro-loan program can be done within the next six (6) months, but such a program cannot begin until it is adequately capitalized through long-term investment or large contributions.
Enhance Medical Nexus: Potomac Valley Hospital is a great asset for Mineral County. The 25-bed critical care medical hospital moved to a new, modern facility just south of Keyser about three years ago. Since the move medical offices and service providers, including a new dialysis center and a physical therapy organization, have located around the hospital. Furthermore, with the acquisition of Potomac Valley by WVU Hospitals, there is great potential for growth and additional specialties aided by the resources of the university.
Potomac Valley Hospital is the largest employer in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector, an area in which almost one-fifth of the county workforce is employed. It is creating spin-off development. It has a new and involved ownership group. All of these combine to make it a strong potential source for economic growth. The development authority can facilitate this by working with the hospital, the county health department, the senior citizens organizations, the Board of Education, social service agencies, and other appropriate groups to determine what new medical specialties could be feasibly offered in the county. The development authority can also serve as a resource for health care industry information for service providers looking to locate in the county. Work on these efforts could begin in 6 to 12 months, allowing time for the transition of the hospital into the WVU system and determining whether that will have any substantial immediate impact on its operations or offerings.
Explore Agricultural Opportunities: Mineral County has been a national leader in two agricultural areas -- chicken and Christmas trees. In 2007, the county ranked among the top quarter of all counties nationally in the value of poultry and eggs produced, the number of broilers (chicken) and number of layers (chicken), and the acreage of Christmas trees. The county also ranked in the top third of all counties for the value of Christmas trees and short rotation woody crops (defined as crops that grow from a seed to a mature tree in 10 years or less). It was among the top five counties in the state in each of these categories. Additionally, Mineral County topped all counties in the state in the number of acres of vegetables harvested for sale.
The variety of offerings gives the county different potential development approaches with respect to agriculture. The poultry and wood production is not large enough, when compared to the neighboring counties, to create additional processing or manufacturing facilities. Still, the development authority should help link farmers with markets and technical assistance providers to ensure their success. Meanwhile, the burgeoning “Local Foods” movement presents the vegetable farmers with new opportunities to sell locally, especially through the “Farm to School” initiatives. The development authority can coordinate with the Board of Education to connect farmers with schools. It can also provide marketing assistance to those who want to sell product at farmers’ markets or to produce buyers. Work on both of these activities can begin in the next six (6) months. A longer range project would be to investigate options for expanding production and marketing of agricultural products in the county. This could range from opening up new lands for farming to utilizing technologies such as hydroponics. Potential partners include the Mineral County Technical Center and the Agriculture Department at WVU Potomac State. Prior to doing any work, however, the development authority should confirm the status of agriculture in the county with data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture (county-level data is scheduled for release in May 2014).
ENCOURAGING INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENT
A community must be ready for economic development to occur, regardless of whether it involves industrial recruitment, business retention and expansion, entrepreneurial development, or broadening perspectives on the basis for local economic activity.
To that end, a locality must have the necessary infrastructure in place to support development. Communication networks must be present that allow high-speed data transmission and voice communications from all locations. Transportation networks must be present that allow products to get to market, that allow workers to get to jobs, that allow supplies and materials to enter the area, and that allow capital to flow into the community.
But it goes beyond having networks that serve to facilitate the needs of development. Communities need to have facilities ready for development opportunities as well. These range from traditional industrial parks and shell buildings to innovative business incubators and office centers.
Similarly, some additional work may be required to set the stage for development. This may entail redevelopment and renewal of places that once served as areas of substantial economic activity but have fallen into disorder and disrepair. Likewise, ancillary facilities for operating, maintenance, and support equipment may need to be constructed that serve to promote the area as a development location or provide services for development and related activities.
For the Mineral County Development Authority, this entails working to connect the county with the region and beyond. This means improving communications networks, forging transportation linkages, constructing needed facilities, and modernizing existing places. The county generally ranks in the middle of the pack on the key indicator with respect to speed of service and number of providers. Of course, moving people and things is still important as well. The county’s highways are generally two lanes or three lanes (two lanes and a climbing lane) – there is not a divided-lane highway for any substantial distance. The county’s current industrial facilities have some vacancies but there is still call for more and/or different such facilities in other locations. The county has limited capacity to hold large-scale special events. Finally, some of its urban areas need to be rejuvenated.
To that end, there are several goal areas for the Mineral County Development Authority.
Seek Broadband Installation/Expansion: The key component to communications in the 21st century is broadband access. The ability to receive and transmit data, voice, and video globally is a requirement of modern business and an amenity desired (and expected) by residents. Technically, Mineral County has broadband access available almost everywhere in the county. However, in many spots only a cellular data link is available, usually from AT&T and/or U.S. Cellular. Meanwhile, hard-wired service – cable and fiber to the premises – is not available in all locations. Less than one-third of the county has access to the wireline providers, such as Frontier and Comcast. Not surprisingly, only about 30 percent of the county has access to download speeds greater than 25 Mbps (Megabits per second).
Overall, the county ranks 15th in technology, 17th in speed, and 31st in access to multiple providers in West Virginia. The development authority will need to facilitate action that will improve this situation. This means supporting the strategic objectives of the Region 8 Planning and Development Council‘s 2013 “Regional Broadband Strategic Plan” to ensure they are done in a timely manner. It also means reaching out to providers to get them to expand their operations in/into the county. Work on these tasks should begin in the next 6 to 12 months. Given the complexity of the situation, it is a long-term project and will take continual work over the next several years (or longer).
Link to Highway Networks: Moving people and things around Mineral County is another important development consideration. However, getting around the county can be complicated. The main highways serving the county – U.S. Routes 50 and 220 and WV Routes 28, 42, 46, and 956 – tend to be quite curved and sloped; none is a divided-lane highway for any substantial distance. The northern edges of the county have access to Interstate 68 in Maryland, but the county seat of Keyser is connected only by U.S. Route 220 which becomes aligned with U.S. Route 50 a few miles south of the city. (U.S. Route 220 becomes a separate route 12 miles east of the junction and heads south toward Moorefield.)
Highways that are under construction or proposed will have a great impact on the county. Corridor H is already open between Bismarck and Wardensville and provides improved access for the southern part of Mineral County to other communities in the Potomac Highlands. However, the current timeline does not call for the Weston-to-Winchester (Va.) route to be completed for another two decades. There is a group working to expand Interstate 99 from a small connector in two states to a 1,500-mile continental highway. While the route would generally use the U.S. Route 219 corridor (which is west of Mineral County), the current highway uses the U.S. Route 220 corridor (which connects Keyser to Cumberland). Likewise, there have been calls to upgrade U.S. Route 50 to provide a better link connection between the county and the Washington, D.C. area. These routes would enhance transportation linkages for the county tremendously.
With the long time lines for new highways to be built, much of the immediate emphasis of development authority action should be on seeking improvements from the WV Division of Highways to existing routes. In particular U.S. Route 220 (12,000 to 16,000 vehicles per day) and WV Route 28 (8,000 to 12,000 vehicles per day) are prime candidates for improvement given their use and economic importance. That being said, it also needs to stay in contact with groups such as the Corridor H Association and Continental One (the successor to the 219 Association) and be ready to support their efforts when they would benefit the county and its development efforts. Work on these tasks should begin in the next six (6) months. Given the complexity of the situation and the long time horizons involved in some of the solutions, these efforts will require periodic work over a period of time.
Expand Industrial Location Facilities: The current county-run industrial facilities are the 50-acre Keyser Industrial Park and the 70-acre Fort Ashby Business and Technology Park. There are seven lots available at Keyser and 16 open lots at Fort Ashby. There are also industrial locations at CSX rail yards in Keyser and Ridgeley as well as at the Robert C. Byrd Hilltop Complex just across the state line near Cumberland, Md. So Mineral County does not lack for locations for development.
Nevertheless, as the county economy moves forward, these may not be sufficient to meet the needs of those wishing to locate in the county. The county has land for industrial locations, but it does not have many ready-to-occupy buildings. There have been calls for a county-operated facility in the northern end of the county closer to the incorporated communities as the Fort Ashby facility has struggled to gain traction, even though it is located near the junction of two prominent roadways through the county (WV Routes 28 and 46). Additionally, bridge improvements are needed across the Potomac River in the northern part of the county to facilitate traffic for industry.
The development authority will play a prominent role in these efforts, directly or indirectly. It will need to plan for erecting shell buildings and the development of a new northern county industrial park (the proposed Cumberland Regional Airport Future Business Park) – and be ready to construct these when there is sufficient demand and resources become available. It will also need to work with state highway officials from West Virginia and Maryland with respect to bridge improvements and construction. Work on these construction-related and preparation tasks should begin in the 24 to 36 months – although the construction of any facilities may not occur until much longer in the future. Work on the bridge lobbying should begin immediately. All of these activities seek long-range desired outcomes, so they will take time, patience, continual work, and periodic revisiting.
Develop Attraction Amenities: A community needs focal points on which activities can be focused. This is especially true for places that desire to undertake tourism-related development. The most glaring absence in the county at present is a general purpose center that can be used for very large groups. Neither of the two largest buildings at WVU Potomac State –the Church-McKee Arts Center (capacity 900) or the Dana G. Lough Gymnasium (capacity 850) can handle as many as 1,000 people. Plus the two facilities focus on serving the needs of the campus rather than the larger county community. That limits the type of groups that can be sought to come to Mineral County.
Related to this, if large groups do come, there are not the necessary services to meet their needs. Hotel rooms and restaurants availability has increased in recent years. Nevertheless, in and around Keyser there are only about 105 standard hotel rooms and about two dozen eateries, less than 10 of which would be considered full service restaurants. There is limited meeting room space available not associated with the college. Shopping focuses on food, basic necessities, and sundries. And ways to spend free time while visiting the area exist, but the offerings may not be readily apparent to first-time visitors.
The development authority will need to work with different groups to improve this situation. It should work with the college, the county government, and potentially a municipality on the creation of a multi-purpose facility that can be used for conferences, conventions, and convocations. It should work with the chamber of commerce and the convention and visitors bureau to identify and recruit businesses to fill the county’s food-and-lodging needs. It should work with the convention and visitors’ bureau and the recreation department to compile and make available a list of existing attractions in the county (a similar task is found under recreation). Work on compiling and distributing activity lists can begin almost immediately and initial efforts be done in just a few months. Most of the other activities described in this section will take considerably longer. Work will need to begin in the next 12 to 24 months and continue until completed, which for the construction of the convention center and the creation of hotels, may take years.
Support Revitalization Efforts: Development has often led to expansion into new areas. As a result, the sprawling nature of development in many cases meant that established places were left behind or even completely forgotten. The result is a development “donut” hole where there is nothing (or at least nothing substantial) in the center. The buildings are usually still present, but many of the banks, groceries, pharmacies, general retailers, and service centers have left for new places on the edges of town. What remains are a few long-time businesses and an assortment of enterprises looking to take advantage of the depressed leasing market caused by businesses moving out. The move from old-to-new in Mineral County is most apparent in Keyser. The boarded-up stores or repurposed buildings in the downtown area serve as a reminder of what was once there. They also outline the potential of what could be there. Spurring revitalization through reinvestment and relocation will help fill those holes.
The development authority would be a supporting contributor in this activity rather than the lead actor. It would work with the county and municipal governments to find grant funds for renovations. It would work with the chamber of commerce to help find appropriate firms to reoccupy the spaces. Work on these tasks should begin in the next 24 months. It is a very long-term project and the long-lead time will enable the proper preparation. It is also something that will take a considerable amount of time to complete or even show results. So this effort will involve continual work once it commences.
PROMOTING QUALITY OF LIFE ENHANCEMENT
Economic development is only one side of the development picture. Community development is equally as important. Not only must places develop in a way that they are conducive to economic investment, they must also be places where people want to visit, live, work, play, and make investments.
In other words, economic development activities must also consider the well-being of the community members. Development that benefits only a few private interests and not the community at large can be problematic. As such, emphasis should be placed on the creation of quality jobs rather than solely on the quantity (number) of jobs created. Working to create jobs which provide people an opportunity to build a better future for themselves and their families – and thus be a benefit to the community – is highly desirable. Conversely, working to create jobs that ensnare persons into the trap of being “working but poor” – and as a result a drain on community resources – is to be avoided.
Likewise, investment needs to be made into facets of the community that will help to attract both workers and investors – just like efforts are made to attract business and industry. Increasingly, individuals whose professions revolve around utilizing information and channeling creativity are able to work where they want to live (rather than living near where they work). The members of this “Creative Class” (a term coined by social scientist and economist Richard Florida) seek amenities, much in the same way a business seeks access to markets. These individuals generally create their own businesses and/or telecommute. Their presence in a community can then result in the need for specialized services and spin-off businesses to serve their needs. As a result, local economic conditions improve because the community had improved itself and what it had to offer to potential residents and investors.
For the Mineral County Development Authority, this means focusing on the values of education, place-making, and livability. The presence of a college in the county seat provides the county with cultural, entertainment, recreation, and educational opportunities that would normally not be found in a place like Mineral County. Likewise, the presence of various entities involved in workforce development (including the college) provides the county with the opportunity to have people educated and trained for whatever the needs of employers might be, giving it an advantage over other places.
Complementary to this, the county needs places that people can be proud to call “home,” activities and locations for spending “leisure” time, and jobs that afford people the opportunity to have a life outside of working. The county already has some of these neighborhoods, some of these recreational spots, and some of these work places, but it could always use more.
To that end, there are several goal areas for the Mineral County Development Authority.
Connect Educational Efforts and Development: The proportion of adult county residents with four-year college degrees is about half what is found nationally. That makes it difficult to attract technology-based businesses. It also limits the earning power of those who have less formal education –the median income for a person with just a high school diploma is about 60 percent of that of someone with a college degree. Having WVU Potomac State College as a resource though can help change this. Programs on the importance of continued education to high school students and their parents need to be continued and expanded – and need to emphasize that complete four-year degree programs are increasingly being made available at the college.
Still, college is not for everyone but everyone still needs to be able to be productive. The Mineral County Board of Education and Potomac State College worked together to keep a branch of the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) in the county. As a result, the institute is available to provide technical-based job training in the county, particularly in the “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and medical-related fields. This will also be useful for individuals needing to be re-trained because changing work situations require them to have different skills. Thus, the technical training needs to be set up to provide the best workforce development opportunities to potential (and current) workers in high-demand fields. Together, these actions can make the county a better place as they could result in not only a higher level of educational attainment, but increased economic activity and earning potential as well. Work on these tasks should begin immediately and be undertaken continuously because there will always be new potential college students and people needing training.
Promote Presence of Potomac State College: Mineral County needs to derive greater benefits not directly tied to the provision of education from WVU Potomac State College. Institutions of higher education offer plays, concerts, speakers, and sports ostensibly for students but almost always available to the greater community. Having larger audiences for these events will be beneficial to the performers and provide additional revenue for college programming (for events with admission charges). Increasing interest among those outside the college community may even help promote better “town-gown” relations.
More importantly, from a development standpoint, these activities can make Mineral County a much better destination location and a much more interesting place to those seeking intellectual stimulation (i.e., the “Creative Class”). But people have to know about the events to be able to attend them. Thus, increased promotion, focusing on the broader county community and not just the campus needs to occur. This work would have to be done by (or at least in conjunction with) Potomac State College. Planning work for this could begin now, with an official “kickoff” in a few months with the start of the Fall 2014 semester. It would need to be done continually and periodically after that with specific planning and publicity deadlines for each semester, season, or special event.
Make Desirable Places to Live: The “2011 Mineral County Comprehensive Plan” opens the section on community design by stating that it is important how a community appears, how it presents itself, and how it conveys a sense of place and goes on to discuss their importance for the county. The plan also raised housing issues with respect to slope, soils, and septic system drainage. The plan recommended clustered housing and encouraged infill development. In the unincorporated areas of the county, subdivision regulations direct how land is developed and required permits ensure construction does not occur in the flood plain. However, there are no rules regarding what type of development can go where and to what standards it has to be built. In this setting, the county finds itself with deficiencies in two types of housing – attractive family neighborhoods and retirement locations.
Given the limited regulations that exist related to building and construction, market forces rather than direct government action will be the main impetuous to improve the situation. The roles for the development authority will be that of serving as a catalyst to make development happen. It can accomplish this by bringing top-notch developers into situations where there is demand for new housing as well as by providing descriptions of the housing needed. It can connect land owners and potential home buyers with these developers. It can work with agencies and organizations that serve seniors to more fully detail their needs – and then link them with potential developers. And it can encourage the county to create guidelines (standards) for housing construction to ensure developments are of high quality to be and remain attractive. Work on these tasks should begin in the next 24 to 36 months. It is a long-term project and as thus should be undertaken with care so it will not need to be revisited for some time.
Enhance Recreation: Mineral County operates from a position of strength with respect to recreation. Unlike many counties, it operates a parks and recreation department. It has natural beauty, nearby mountains, and Jennings Randolph Lake. There are a multitude of public and private recreation facilities, such as parks, campgrounds, wildlife areas, hunting grounds, fishing spots, hiking trails, ball fields, and assorted play areas. There are historic sites and landmarks as well as special geological and scenic locations. There are numerous festivals and fairs which draw residents and visitors to the community.
However, underutilization (particularly of the lake) and lack of coordination have limited the effectiveness of these plentiful and wide-ranging recreation opportunities. Finding a way to increase the visibility and utilization of these assets is important; it makes life better for current residents and makes the county more attractive to visitors and potential residents. Cataloging facilities, updating scheduling, and expanding publicity are areas where work should be undertaken. Mineral County Parks and Recreation and the Mineral County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau would be the lead agencies for this undertaking. The development authority would be the convener to start this process and a coordinator throughout. Work on these tasks should begin in the next 24 to 36 months. It is a long-term project and as thus should be undertaken with care so it will not need to be revisited for some time.
Stress Need for Jobs to Pay Sufficiently: Low pay and poverty issues abound in Mineral County. The average weekly wage for private sector employment was almost 10 percent lower than the state average and nearly 30 percent lower than the national average. Likewise, the median household income and per capita money income are lower. The county’s poverty rate is not as high as the state but it is still worse than the national rate. Another way to look at the situation is that the MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates show the typical expenses of a family of four are over $5,000 more than the total amount that would be earned by each adult working full-time and earning the current minimum wage (and this estimate does not include any child care expenses).
While legislative action increasing the state minimum wage helps, it is not a solution. Rather, the county needs more jobs that pay people enough so that they have money not only for the necessities of today but some to set aside for the niceties of tomorrow as well. What this will entail is that attention be given to the quality of the job – and not just the quantity of jobs – as part of the development process. Work on this matter is going to be long-term and continuous as attitudes will have to be changed as recruitment, retention, and all facets of economic development are considered in this different context.
IMPROVING INTERNAL OPERATIONS
A community needs strong leadership to successfully undertake development activities. This leadership has to be at both the individual and the organizational level. There need to be key persons who move things forward and serve as catalysts for change. Behind these leaders, there needs to be a strong organization which provides counsel and support. Furthermore, by working together, the leadership and the organization can bring about far more positive change than if they acted independently or in an uncoordinated manner.
Of course, this does not happen without preparation work. Those who that are serving as leaders as well as those who are part of the support organization require specific education and training to gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities to make things happen. Sufficient resources must be made available so that things can happen. Policies, procedures, and processes need to be in place to ensure that the right things are done and that things are done in the right way. Finally, there must be some forethought and planning put into these actions so that guidance is in place to ensure all decisions are made to move the community in the same (desired) direction.
For the Mineral County Development Authority, this is an extremely important consideration as it is again facing the challenges of associated with having new leadership. The March 2014 hiring of a new executive director means that the authority has its fourth different full-time staff leader over the last 10 years. While the changes have been the result of retirements and voluntary relocations, they nevertheless have resulted in transitional periods where progress was slow and uncertainty was high. Combine the current change with the recent turnover in the membership of the board, it becomes obvious that the development authority could benefit from some organizational stability – both to accomplish the work agenda set forth within this plan and to forge a positive identity and direction for the MCDA.
To that end, there are several goal areas for the Mineral County Development Authority.
Support Development: The Mineral County Development Authority board needs to be supportive of those working in development. This means working with its new director to ensure his introduction to the position and the transitional phase as he begins work are as uncomplicated and unproblematic as possible. Likewise, the development authority should be encouraging and accommodating to those working on related activities, so long as those efforts are not at cross-purposes with its goals. Likely allies include the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce with respect to retail development, RCBI and the Mineral County Board of Education on workforce development, WVU Potomac State on higher education-related development, and WVU Hospitals on health care focused development. Work on these tasks should begin immediately and be undertaken continuously to ensure everyone continues to work together and in the right direction.
Undertake Training: The Mineral County Development Authority has a new executive director. It also has several board members who have served in that capacity for a short period of time. Both the director and these relatively new board members should seek training to help make them more effective in carrying out the duties of their respective positions. Likewise, more experienced board members would also benefit from additional professional education. Training in community and economic development is available from a variety of entities such as the West Virginia Development Office, the West Virginia University Extension Service, and the West Virginia Community Development Hub. Furthermore, by seeking training for the executive director and the board members, the development authority would easily meet the annual requirement of 30 hours of professional development for the state’s Local Economic Development Grant Program. Work on these tasks should begin in the next few months and be undertaken periodically (annually) to ensure the MCDA stays up-to-date with respect to development methods and trends.
Publicize Existence and Efforts: The Mineral County Development Authority has done a lot of good work and has had its share of successes over the years. Often, however, this work is done in the background and the efforts of the MCDA go unnoticed. Creating regular modes of communication should be explored. These could range from e-newsletters to regular press releases to public access and other media appearances. Meanwhile, some of the materials the development authority has to promote itself – from pamphlets to the website – could use updating. To that end, new materials should be developed that incorporate the information and ideas from this plan (including the updated mission statement). This will permit the development authority to better brand itself and ensure its materials will provide a consistent message and have a standard “look and feel.” Work on the communication tasks should begin in the next 6 to 12 months and the branding tasks in the next 12 to 24 months. In both cases, these efforts will need to be revisited periodically to ensure the message and information distributed about the development authority remains accurate and updated.
Establish Dialogue with Other Leaders: Just as the activities of the Mineral County Development Authority can be invisible to the public, it can also be unknown to the myriad of elected and appointed public officials who represent the county. Similarly, the MCDA does not always know what the leaders who serve the county think of the development authority – or what they might be able to do on its behalf. This mutual unfamiliarity is a large problem. Anonymity in the eyes of the decision-makers, the resource allocators, and the agenda-setters usually results in an organization not getting what it needs, whether that be funding, project assistance, or legislative changes.
While the general efforts to publicize the work of the development authority (discussed above) would help with the elected and appointed public officials as well, additional action is needed. The prominent persons (or positions they hold) which must be kept abreast of the development authority activities need to be identified. This would begin with the County Commission and the municipal governments in the county; they all have representation on the MCDA board but confirming those connections is always a good place to start. Then boards, elected bodies, and other entities that serve the county and may have a connection to economic development need to be kept informed. That list would include the Board of Education, the Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Department, the administration of WVU Potomac State College, the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce, the Potomac Valley Hospital Board, and the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority. These officials need to be asked about development efforts and how they and their organizations could benefit from them and contribute to them. Likewise, meetings with the state and federal legislators who represent the county (or parts of it) need to be held to solicit their input and seek their support. Finally, these meetings – as well as regular development authority board meetings – could be held at various locations around the county to encourage expanded public participation and to demonstrate that the development authority serves all of Mineral County. In all cases, these activities are expected to be periodic and continual once they have been started. Work on these tasks should begin in the next 12 months or so and be revisited as needed to ensure all those who need to be involved are informed and/or invited.
Standardize Practices and Record-Keeping: While most of the focus of this plan has been to direct the Mineral County Development Authority to “do the right things,” it is also necessary for it to “do things right.” In other words, because the development authority is technically a part of the county government, it must abide by the appropriate laws, such as the Open Governmental Meeting Act (WV Code §6A-9) and the Governmental Ethics Act (WV Code §6B-1). Work to confirm the development authority is in compliance with its legal requirements needs to be done immediately and should be done continually. There are also practical reasons to have a set of standard practices. Economic development is often very complicated. Some activities require confidentiality while others require cooperation of multiple entities. Board members have different strengths, and thus play different roles, with respect to such efforts. Consistent communication between all parties is essential for success. Related to this, the development authority needs to create a standard filing system and follow a standard record-keeping protocol. That would ensure reports and files need to be maintained in an orderly manner so that information on past activities can be readily retrieved when needed for background or research. Work on these tasks should begin in the 12 to 24 months. It is a long-term project and as thus should be undertaken with care so it will not need to be revisited for some time.