By Stephen Smoot
After months of discussion and negotiation, Pendleton and Grant counties will combine their economic development efforts under one yet to be named organization.
This follows the example set already by the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority and two other entities in the state. State of West Virginia officials have suggested that many counties would benefit by pooling economic development resources.
Jim Linsenmeyer, Eastern Panhandle representative from the state economic development office, explained that “we strongly support regional marketing efforts.” He also noted that those from outside the state identify regions most accurately, but usually have little knowledge of counties or smaller cities and towns.
Dayne Davis, president of the Pendleton County Economic and Community Development Authority board, gave a presentation on the reasons for the development, starting with “it’s been since January since Grant County lost their administrator,” a development that helped to lead to the merger.
Davis then laid out the primary reasons why the two counties agreed to join their EDAs. He said, “There’s a lot of benefit from an economies of scale standpoint.” Both counties can save money by combining staff and other aspects of their operations.
Additionally, he shared that “Pendleton and Grant have a lot of similarities when it comes to economics and tourism.” Davis went on to explain that the counties have similarities in their development and that businesses locating in one county will inevitably employ and otherwise benefit people in the other.
Kevin Haggerty, Grant County commissioner, later stated that “we believe the regional EDA will be a benefit to both Grant and Pendleton counties. If either county lands business, then both counties benefit.”
Pendleton and Grant have already worked on combining efforts in other fields, such as the Bridge to Bridge tourism initiative for the Smoke Hole region.
Combining the county populations into a single economic development zone can also open up more opportunities for outside funding, especially from government sources. As Laura Brown, executive director of the Pendleton County EDA, as well as the new organization’s director, said later, “The biggest benefit of our regional development authority is the strengthening of our numbers.”
She added that “now we have two populations, two sets of legislative representation, and a collaborative network of stakeholders in Grant and Pendleton working towards the greater good within one development authority.”
Haggerty added that “Pendleton and Grant counties have worked on multiple projects together, including broadband, and have a wonderful relationship,” then explained that combining efforts will improve the region.
He also praised the incoming leadership, saying that “we are very happy to have Laura Brown’s experience as the director of the regional EDA.”
The process of bringing the two organizations together will take several months, but has already commenced. The two current county EDAs will remain in place as legal entities. Boards of the two organizations will also remain in place, but as advisory bodies with no voting or administrative authority.
Retaining the original EDA legal structures will allow the combined organization to dissolve should the arrangement not work out. Carl Heavner, president of the Pendleton County Commission, said, “We don’t foresee that happening.”
Each county will retain title to its own property, but the leases currently held by each county EDA would move to the combined agency. Pendleton and Grant’s county commissions will also have to pass a set of resolutions authorizing their EDAs to combine, then also authorizing the new entity to operate.
“It’s a new concept for the communities,” Davis advised. “I think we’ve mitigated that as much as we can.” Then stated that “it puts us in better scoring position to get opportunities.”
Josh Jarrell, who serves as legal advisor for the Pendleton County EDA, has worked with all parties to ensure that the process follows the law and creates as few unintended consequences as possible. He discussed the next step as needing to prepare the governing documents and bylaws for the new organization and its board. Additionally, the bylaws of the current EDAs would require revision to reflect the new reality of their existence under the combined organization.
All parties agreed that rushing the new organization into existence served no purpose and that it would be established thoughtfully, especially since the counties have followed a unique path to union. Jarrell stated that “I’m not aware if the specific track we’re on has ever been done.”
Brown also said, “With any change comes some adversity. This has been carefully examined from all angles under the guidance of a wise attorney and we have the support of the state and other regional and state stakeholders.”
Another point of agreement lay in the friendly and fraternal manner in which the counties worked together, boding well for future success. Linsenmeyer said, “I’ve got to applaud this working group. Everyone has collaborated in a cooperative way.” Jarrell affirmed this, saying “It’s been a real pleasure to work with this group.”
Brown stated, “I know change can be difficult, but difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations, and I have no doubt that we are ready.”
Dayne said, “These are exciting times!”