Officials from throughout Hancock and Brooke counties, including New Cumberland, Weirton, Follansbee and Wellsburg, gathered at Williams Country Club to discuss ideas for the future of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle.
Most of the officials gathered agreed that changes are needed, and many said there is a lack of communication, not enough funding or control of developable land, and problems with the structure of the board of directors.
"It's not the first time we've talked about it," Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse said. (Weirton Daily Times, Craig Howell)
The BDC's determination to actively pursue a "reorganization" arrived at a conspicuously fortuitous time for Pat Ford, coming as it did just eight days after Ford's incendiary resignation from Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority.
It is unclear whether "the officials gathered" at the Sept. 4 meeting constituted some sort of definable set, or an informal selection.
Some of the restructuring proposed has included hiring a seasoned economic development specialist and eliminating the current board membership with a goal of getting rid of any conflict and inefficiency. (ibid)
Sounds like a job with Pat Ford's name written all over it. But how would they land him?
Bernie Kazienko, a Brooke County commissioner and member of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle’s board of directors, asked [Wellsburg city] council to consider providing $10,500 over three years to help the organization hire an experienced economic development specialist. Kazienko said each municipality in Brooke and Hancock counties has been or will be asked to make a contribution to the BDC based on their respective populations. (WDT, Warren Scott)
Considerable lobbying would need to take place among the cities and counties of the region if together they would lure to this BDC a development czar of Mr. Ford's caliber. Kazienko and Greathouse, from Brooke and Hancock counties respectively, seem to have acted as the point-people for the marketing effort.
[Kazienko] noted he approached Follansbee Council last week seeking a commitment of $12,000 over three years, and the group’s primary concern was whether it legally can give city money to the private, nonprofit group, which operates outside the city. Kazienko presented a section of state code he believes addresses that issue, and City Solicitor Bill Cipriani agreed to review it. Council agreed unanimously to grant Kazienko’s request, pending Cipriani’s legal opinion. (ibid)
Those concerns sometimes have a way of taking care of themselves.
Also on Monday, [Follansbee city] council tabled a request from the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle for a $4,000 contribution, to be made over three years, to help the private, nonprofit economic development group to hire an experienced director to promote and assist with development in Brooke and Hancock counties. While council members said they wanted to support the BDC’s goals, there were concerns about whether city funds may be given to a private entity. City Attorney Michael Gaudio is expected to meet with Brooke County Prosecutor David B. Cross, the county commission’s legal counsel, to discuss the issue. (WDT, Warren Scott)
Although there was a potential legal issue being noticed by some, there was also a practical and political argument being made for greater cooperation and efficiency -- that being, Wellsburg's money, Follansbee's money, Beech Bottom's money, what difference does it make? They're all on the same team.
By Nov. 12th, the BDC had secured enough initial buy-in to go to Weirton and ask for a major commitment of $25,000 per year for three years.
Several concerns expressed from city council included a lack of communication, lack of specifics including a time frame of hire, as well as what the developer was going to do.
City Manager Gary DuFour said he understands that it's an elementary question to ask, but said the city would like some clear idea of what the plans will be before a decision is made. (WDT, Angelina Dickson)
Concerns in Weirton City Hall seemed to expand during the following month.
Ward 4 Councilman George Ash Sr. told the other members of city council he was prepared to support a simple resolution for one year but feels reluctant to do anything more.
"They are talking about the current board hiring a new economic developer and then reorganizing," said Ash. "I've just never seen it done this way."
"I also have a problem with them agreeing to certain things at a previous meeting and now that they've talked to Mr. Greathouse everything has changed," added Ash.
City council members expressed disliking the fact that the names of the people the BDC is planning to consider for hire have not been revealed to them.
BDC Board member John Frankovitch told the members of council at a previous meeting that the names must be kept confidential because of the fact that they each have current jobs.
"My main concern is Weirton getting what we were told we were going to get," said Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh. (WDT, Angelina Dickson)
Nonetheless, Weirton's Finance Commission and then City Council tentatively approved the BDC's funding -- that being, mostly, Pat Ford's compensation -- through what was becoming known as a Memorandum of Understanding among municipalities and the BDC.
Then it was back to Hancock County and its commissioner Dan Greathouse:
Marvin Six, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, requested a resolution of support and recognition of the BDC and the approval of a $30,000 pledge toward the grant match.
The requested pledge is part of the process of applying for the LED grant from the West Virginia Development Office.
Greathouse stated that the county commission has pledged a matching grant to the BDC for approximately 12 years. (WDT, Jen Matsick)
Strange that the BDC had not been "recognized" by Hancock County until that point.
At any rate, with funding wrangled from municipalities all over the state, on March 4 of 2009 the curtain was lifted: the people of the northern panhandle of West Virginia had successfully secured for themselves Mr. Patrick Ford.
Some of the projects the BDC has worked on include Roll Coater, the Three Springs Business Park, the Baymont Inn and Rue 21 in Weirton; Rig Packaging in Wellsburg; and moving Aladdin Signs to Beech Bottom in an attempt to keep the business in the area. (WDT, Craig Howell, via BDC release)Those are items I'm somewhat interested in confirming and learning more about, particularly Rue 21.
Founded in 1993, the BDC is a non-profit organization formed to serve as the lead economic development agency for the two county region. As part of the efforts to reorganize, proposals have been made also to put together a new board of directors. (ibid)
The "reorganization" is intriguing as well.