FOCUSING DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Click to View full PDF, or print, the MCDA Strategic Plan ("Vision")
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).