By Stephen Smoot
The Seneca Rocks Regional Development Authority introduced two new members to its board during its monthly meeting last week. Brooke Hott represents the Pendleton County Health Department, while Jeff Davis owns Potomac Hardware and other local businesses.
Laura Brown, executive director, shared that with three leases coming up soon, the board may wish to create a specific committee to evaluate the RDA’s leases.
“Some of these, we need to get moving on,” she noted, adding that “we need to get that committee together to make recommendations to the board.”
J.P. Mowery from Pendleton County Schools, Jeff Davis and Robert Reed volunteered. Dane Davis volunteered to serve as a resource for the committee, but stated that his work with Pendleton Community Bank could create conflicts of interest. The committee was rounded out when Kirk Apple of Greer stepped up, saying that “I’ve got a little bit of experience with leases.”
Brown then opened a discussion on the RDA developing a comprehensive plan, explaining that “we have the opportunity through Mon Forest Towns” to do so.
Sarah Moomau shared that “it would be very beneficial to the Regional Development Authority, but will not take the place of Petersburg and Franklin having their own.”
Benedum Foundation will finance a limited number of comprehensive plans and will decide which to back at the end of November. Getting a proposal in early was described as key.
Increasingly, federal and state grantors use the lack of a comprehensive plan to vet out applicants, Moomau cautioned.
Though the process to create an initial plan brings challenges and requires significant work, Moomau said, “West Virginia University Law School will take this on as a project.” She added that she did not think that the other regional authorities, New River and Greenbrier Valley, have done this.
The state, however, “is favorable toward efforts to regionalize groups and areas.” Regionalization “gives us a bigger stage.”
Moomau went on to say that “you are creating a vision for the future of this RDA.”
Tyson Riggleman, Grant County commissioner, agreed about the value of the effort, but voiced concerns about the opinion of the West Virginia Economic Development Office.
Brown responded by saying “I can only see it helping us.”
Board members asked about the effort required to keep the plan current, once created. Moomau said, “Updating it is not nearly the laborious task that creating it is.” Others said they wished to learn more details.
Brown agreed to engage Jim Linsenmeyer at the state development office to clarify his position on it.
After discussing bids on property repairs and improvements to structures owned by the RDA in both Pendleton and Grant counties, the board next examined progress at the Virginia Avenue project in Petersburg. The RDA had received an appraisal on properties at a location in which it plans to build an innovation hub.
The RDA plans to create innovation hubs in both Petersburg and Franklin. These would create spaces for remote workers to come to a location where they can use high speed internet and have space in which to work. Cities, such as Martinsburg, have seen such hubs have great success and limited internet service and capability make innovation hubs even more potentially attractive in the Potomac Highlands.
Related to that discussion, Brown shared that the Pendleton County Economic Development Authority had applied for a United States Department of Agricultural Rural Business Development Grant in February. PCEDA won the award. The board discussed and approved ways to move the funds to SRRDA for the purpose of trying to purchase property in Franklin for the innovation hub there.