The expansion of infrastructure at the Woodlands Pinecrest Business and Technology Park in Beckley is another step toward the future.
The site, just off of the East Beckley Bypass, is in phase two of a plan that began in 1992.
The site was originally part of the 4-C Economic Development Authority, known now as the New River Gorge Development Authority, a regional initiative that combines the assets of four counties to promote economic growth.
In southern West Virginia, too often in the past we have found ourselves in situations where instead of cooperation between municipalities and counties for jobs or investment, we instead turned against each other. That stubborn infighting often meant jobs and investment went to other states instead.
Woody Thrasher, president of Thrasher Engineering, a West Virginia native and WVU graduate, acknowledged that history Tuesday at the ribbon-cutting that marked the extension of the road through the acreage on Cranberry Creek Drive.
Thrasher told the crowd he had a “love-hate” relationship with West Virginia at times, venting his frustration at the inability of some cities and counties in the state to pool their assets to attract new business and industry.
His comments were significant, because Pinecrest is the result of lessons learned. Cooperation beats competition when it comes to regional economic development.
One of the most significant selling points of Pinecrest is its flat terrain that is close to a developed infrastructure in the City of Beckley.
That’s a pairing that is often difficult to find in West Virginia, and it is to the credit of Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh, former 4-C director John Hunt and Walt Lapinsky that they recognized the asset for what it was more than 20 years ago. Pugh remains president of the Pinecrest Development Corp., which oversees the park.
Of the site, which once was all farmland, Pugh said: “We wanted to try to combine something, and put it into one big piece.”
The 700 acres of land being developed in phase two are privately owned. A doctor has bought some of the property for development. And other developers are expected to follow.
Thrasher is one of them. He announced Tuesday that he would be relocating the southern office of his engineering firm to Pinecrest, bringing with it 45 engineering and support jobs.
Our major industry in southern West Virginia, coal, continues its transition to playing a significant but ever-smaller role in our regional economy.
While we hope common sense and technological advances can help coal recover some of what the industry has lost, we recognize its vulnerability to rapidly changing markets and the often whimsical regulatory attitudes of federal officials.
Those realities, as bitter as they may be to those of us who cherish the part coal has played in shaping our culture and history in southern West Virginia, are nevertheless still realities we must face.
So we are genuinely impressed and pleased by this new addition to Pinecrest, and by the announcement by Thrasher that he plans to locate a new office on the site.
Because this type of high-tech investment in southern West Virginia is exactly the type of economic and business diversity we need to pursue. Coal may well recover. After all, we live in an increasingly energy-hungry world.
But it is wise to take the coal industry decline as a cautionary tale: A diversified and vibrant regional economy would help insulate us from the industry’s uncertain future, and the well-being of our families and cities would not necessarily ebb and flow with the price of coal.
And when it comes to economic diversity, we’re ready for the long haul. Even if it comes 45 jobs at a time.