One of the last goals of former West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration, was to try to help southern West Virginia economically. Tomblin hopes he’s found a unique way to do that.
Space, that’s one of the things companies look for when they consider locating in West Virginia. They want plenty of it before they’ll commit to moving factories and warehouses to the state, but former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the lack of flat land is often a challenge for those working to diversify West Virginia’s economy.
“Because one of the things that we’ve found out from our commerce and development office is that we’ve lost a lot of potential investors coming in, simply because we could not find level ground, or enough ground suitable to build the kind of factory that they wanted,” Tomblin said.
Tomblin said many times companies need as much as 50-100 acres to locate in the state. And before he left the Governor’s Office, Tomblin made sure to find that much space for multiple companies.
The Hobet Mine site along Route 119 in Boone County boasts 12,000 acres of flat land. Tomblin says the former mine site could be used for both industrial and commercial development, helping to revitalize the region’s economy. A project to create a suitable site for business development began under the Tomblin administration and now Hobet is known as the Rock Creek Development Park, which Tomblin told West Virginia Public Broadcasting in December is already attracting attention.
“We have part of the utilities there now, but I think that’s going to, I’m just sorry we can’t get that complete before I leave, but we got it set in motion, so it’s moving around very well,” Tomblin said.
The Hobet site is still being mined, although at a much smaller scale than it once was, and the reclamation process is still underway. It’s that process, though that prepares the site for new tenants.
Among those tenants will be the West Virginia National Guard. In a unique relationship that’s worked in other areas of the state, the guard will use some of the land for training, as well a new maintenance facility and even agriculture projects aimed at helping veterans. Adjutant General James Hoyer leads the state’s guard.
“So I think it’s really up to our imagination what it could and how we leverage that available land and space to create opportunities for southern West Virginia that help us both diversify our economy as well as continue to enhance the opportunities that will still exist in a revitalized energy industry,” Hoyer said.
The guard’s use of the site will create a need to expand the infrastructure available there, including a more accessible route to the top of the mountain, and additional water and sewer lines to support an increased amount of people working on the property. Once that infrastructure has been created, the Boone County site will be more attractive to new investors, near a four-lane highway with direct access to Charleston and Yeager Airport.
The West Virginia National Guard currently has training sites in the state at Camp Dawson near Kingwood, the St. Albans readiness Center and the Memorial Tunnel Training Complex near Gallagher, West Virginia. And a site at Camp Branch in Logan County where they have a combat assault strip.
The guard hopes by adding Rock Creek to the list, the West Virginia network of training facilities will be more attractive to other military operations from outside the state that need a one-stop shop for training.
The Guard is currently in the process of creating a maintenance shop at Rock Creek that will be able to service some of the guard’s vehicles and also those for other military branches.
“We’re going to be able to do some maintenance work that’s going to be tied to some mobility training using what we call non-standard vehicles, not necessarily tanks and bradley’s, but the non-standard vehicles that are used in a variety of the counter-terrorism missions that go on around the globe,” Hoyer said.
But Hoyer believes the activity on the site won’t start and end with the West Virginia National Guard.
“The access and capability that we have to bring more of that national security and homeland security to the state and generate an industrial base around that activity and we think we can do it more cost effectively and more timely and at the highest levels of quality,” Hoyer said. “So that makes our nation safer and creates jobs in West Virginia sounds like a winner to me.”
Initially the Guard will create 8 new positions at Rock Creek, but said that number will likely increase in the future as more of their projects get underway.