By Cody Neff
New businesses can keep opening their doors, but local officials say it’s going to take a bit more than one shop to create development in our area.
“I think there could always be more,” Sophia Mayor Danny Barr said. “I know over our way we’ve got a a company that relocated here from Slab Fork. That is Rock & Coal Construction.
“They have came in and purchased the property an the former Sophia High School and they have a fabricating plant located on the baseball field and old football field. They have offices in the school. That’s part of the economic development that’s going on here in Sophia.”
Barr says he and other town officials want to talk with the people in charge of the Coalfields Expressway as part of their town’s blueprint community initiative.
“We want to try to see if we can’t get some infrastructure installed on the highway so we could look into putting in a little industrial park or expanding the industrial park that’s behind the school,” he said.
“Of course, we’d have to work with the landowners on that Barr added.
“An industrial park brings in jobs that allow people to make a decent wage. They can raise a family and buy their home and buy a car. You can’t do those things on minimum wage. With these service-oriented jobs you can’t do those things. You can’t buy a home on minimum wage, but if you get good-paying jobs in, then that becomes possible.”
Sometimes the town will annex property that doesn’t have any infrastructure, like roads and utilities, and add those things to the site, Barr said.
“One good example of that is on Independence Road which is outside Sophia,” he said. “We annexed that property and got a sewer put on it. That serves the three schools that are there.
“We also want to add the Lester Square Shopping Center to our city’s area. We’re pushing for the former Kroger store in Lester Square to have some business put in. We’re trying though. It’s just tough. You have to offer them something. It’s a shame to see places in West Virginia that move out and go across the border to Virginia just because of taxes. They’re going to do what’s best for their business.
“Our state has a long way to go to start drawing people in here. It’s a tough time now anyway with trying to get economic development. You get a factory and everyone goes after it and it turns into a bidding war. It’s about what you can give to them to cause them to change their mind and move into West Virginia.”
Barr says Burning Rock Adventure Park is another one of the great things the county offers at this time.
“The park draws people,” he said. “Tourism will draw people and we fully support Burning Rock. We’re working closely with Burning Rock and trying to get some services to them. It’s going to take time though. We know it needs expanded and needs housing and a few other things.”
If things are going to advance, Barr says, we need to help get the Coalfields Expressway finished.
“It needs to be finished all the way into the state of Virginia so you can get the traffic from the southwest Virginia area. Funding is hard to get. People are trying hard though. Everyone is trying to get the road done, but right now it’s a road to nowhere, which isn’t helping much.
“I think that’s the biggest problem over here. We need to tie Wyoming, Raleigh, and McDowell County together. You have to have transportation. If anyone locates to your area, then they have to have transportation and a way to get their goods to the market.”
Barr says it’s not just about Sophia or even Raleigh County at this point.
“We in Sophia think, if you do something in Beckley then it helps the whole of Raleigh County and if you do something in Princeton then it helps the region,” he said. “We’re not in this just for ourselves. We’re grateful for anything that comes into this part of the state.
“We just have been lacking in leadership at times when it comes to who has sat in the governor’s office in the past. They don’t really give a lot of attention to southern WV.”
Businesses and services are being built all over Raleigh County every day though, one official says.
“I believe the overall picture is good,” Raleigh County Commissioner Linda Epling said. “If you look around, you can see all of the good things that are going on. It’s my understanding that we’ve got a McDonald’s and a Sheetz going in where Beckley Feed used to be.
“You’ve got Buffalo Wild Wings, Crossroads Chevrolet, the Panera Bread on Eisenhower Drive. There’s also the West Virginia Miners ballpark. You look all over the place and you can see where businesses are coming. I just wish we had more manufacturing here. We have very few manufacturing businesses in West Virginia.”
Epling says the future of the county isn’t about wishing and wanting though.
“I think we have to take what the good Lord has given us and use what we have at hand now,” she said. “The way everything looks now, I think we’re moving forward. If these other things come along, then we’ll just have to be ready for them. I think we can wish for this and wish for that, but that’s not going to make it so, so we take what we’ve got and that’s our starting place.
“We have to support what we have and take care of what we have. To me, that’s the best thing to do. You look toward the future, but you take what you’ve got and you make sure you take good care of that. We need to run with what we’ve got and make it the best we can.”
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