ENCOURAGING INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENT
Click to View full PDF, or print, the MCDA Strategic Plan ("Vision")
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.