By Stephen Smoot
Business owners, non profit directors, and economic development officials converged last week on Judy Gap, meeting together at NRocks.
With ceiling fans overhead, busily driving away the heat and humidity of the day, Dayne Davis, economic development authority board president, asked all to introduce themselves. He then revealed the name of the new combined economic development authority that would combine the efforts of Pendleton and Grant counties.
It will take the name “Seneca Rocks Regional Development Authority.” The new entity follows the model of the “New River Gorge Regional Development Authority” that harnesses the potential of Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, and Summers counties in south central West Virginia.
Davis explained to the attendees the purpose of combining efforts, saying “being stronger together, better together, give us the opportunity to get more grants. Many grants look at the potential population served. With Pendleton and Grant counties combining efforts for the two counties’ 19,000 people, more grant money could provide more benefit to both counties.”
Laura Brown, who serves as executive director of Seneca Rocks RDA, shared that both counties recently received broadband grants. She added that “Micrologic is experienced in Grant County and is interested in Pendleton.”
Micrologic is a Buckhannon based provider.
Suzanne Park, communications director for Potomac Valley Transit Authority, shared information about that organization’s success in winning a $4.7 million grant to plan a hydrogen fuel production facility for the Potomac Highlands. She told attendees that PVTA pursued the grant “due to federal rules” regulating emissions after 2035.
While “propane is an option,” Senator Joe Manchin’s office approached PVTA about participating in hydrogen programs. In conferences on green energy, Park related that “hydrogen was the one thing no one nixed.”
Park then mentioned that she also serves on the Grant County Convention and Visitors Bureau, to which Davis replied, “Relationships make the world go round.”
Kyle Apple then addressed the room. He came representing Greer and spoke of the challenges facing the lime industry, mostly from uninformed federal regulations. “I am going a lot with the EPA. My whole world lately has become political,” he said. He then added, “We’ve gotten Joe Manchin’s office involved.”
He explained that lime, among many other uses, is crucial for maintaining proper ph balances in trout streams. Apple added that “we have a really good population of brook trout in the middle of the lime plant,” explaining the environmental safety of the Greer operation.
He ended by saying, “Like every other business in the countryside, we’re hiring.” One can make $19 an hour “right out of high school.”
Brown replied with “there is no shortage of jobs in Pendleton County, just a shortage of workers.”
Next Dustin Wichterman, on sabbatical from Trout Unlimited, described his new reservation –only campground located on “some of the best trout waters in the state.” He then discussed the “guys in white trucks driving around asking questions.” These crews came from Trout Unlimited to conduct a study of trout in area streams. Wichterman stated that Pendleton County is underrepresented in counts and the crews are working to “just help people find out if they have trout in their streams or not.”
He closed by sharing that “we have some of the biggest brook trout,” some reaching between 16 and 18 inches “which is unheard of here.”
Luke Taylor-Ide then rose to talk about a “multi-state planning grant” recently won by Future Generations University and awarded by Virginia Tech. He stated that “the big thing is that there is a crisis coming with the spotted lantern fly.” This insect has slowly spread ever since its accidental introduction from Asia. Though it prefers trees of heaven most, it will attack maple, walnut, grape, and many other native species, draining plants of sap.
FGU also started working with Circleville based Mountain Cajun Getaways as they seek to expand the work they do with veterans, especially in terms of introducing them to farming. Retired veterans with their pensions assume less risk in establishing a farm since they already have a source of income.
Amber Nesselrodt, executive director of the Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau closed presentations, saying, “I want to thank the EDA for inviting us to be here.” She discussed the promotional map brochure, now available at many area businesses. Nesselrodt reminded attendees that a more thorough adventure guide will be coming.
The next roundtable will take place on Nov. 29 at Fisher Mountain.