John O'Neal selected to be new Mercer County development authority director

Register-Herald file photoJohn O’Neal, looking over information on a bill during his stint as a Raleigh County representative in the House of Delegates

princeton — John O’Neal, a legislative liaison for Gov. Jim Justice and former House majority whip in Charleston, has been selected to serve as the new development authority director of Mercer County.

O’Neal joined the Justice administration in 2017 after serving four terms as a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates from Raleigh County, where he served as majority whip for two years and later as assistant majority leader in 2017. He operated a real estate investment company for many years and was a former women’s basketball coach at Bluefield State College. O’Neal also worked as a teacher and coach at the Mercer Christian Academy in Princeton and as a former school administrator in Beckley.

As development authority director, he will be charged with promoting new economic development growth and job creation in Mercer County.

“I would just say this — I feel like my experience in the private sector and the public sector, both in the Legislature and the governor’s office, have helped me get a pretty good understanding of the factors that are important to attracting business to our state,” O’Neal said last week.

“Also I think a big part of economic development is reaching out to private sector companies. First of all you are trying to reach out to existing companies, and help them to expand. Then we are reaching out and trying to help other companies to come to our county and bring some jobs. Also a part of that is trying to give them some incentives, and make them aware of the benefits of being here. Some of those incentives are tax breaks, and tax credits for jobs being created.”

O’Neal said the governor’s office has been notified of his decision to take the job in Mercer County.

“My decision to leave that position and come to Mercer County was because of the job offer and the opportunity was just fantastic for me and my family,” O’Neal said. “It was a chance to be back in southern West Virginia, close to home with the goal of trying to do some really good work for (Mercer County).”

O’Neal has been offered the position of development director by the development authority board of Mercer County. The Mercer County Commission is scheduled to vote next month to officially accept the recommendation of the development authority board.

“The development authority board has offered me the job,” O’Neal said. “I’ve accepted it and they have approved me as the new executive director. But there is actually one more step that has to be taken before everything is finalized. The county commission has to approve the hiring in July.”

O’Neal will replace Janet Bailey, the current development authority director of Mercer County, who is retiring effective June 30.

O’Neal said his first plan is to evaluate opportunities in Mercer County for job creation and growth.

“I will say this — it’s probably too early for me to just jump in and just say here is my exact analysis of the situation and this is what we are going to do,” O’Neal said. “I think we do need to evaluate and get the lay of the land number one. We are going to have some significant dollars spent in Mercer County in the coming years, and that is something we’ve got to try to build on. The roads that are already there, and the (interstate) exits that are already there, are a prime priority. And I will say this with tourism — what’s happening with the Hatfield-McCoy Trail is fantastic, and I want to do everything I can to support that. But at the same time I think we need to make every effort to locate manufacturing jobs that will work in our area. So those are definitely a high priority.”

— Contact Charles Owens at Follow him on Twitter @BDTOwens

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