Randy Yohe Published

A Letter To A Billionaire Sparked A W.Va. Economic Windfall

JJ and Jeffries.jpg

Driving back home from a West Virginia University research and technology department session, Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, was inspired to write a longshot “come to West Virginia” letter to nine global billionaire investors, including Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett.

“It started out with – since pick-axes first struck coal in 1810 in Wheeling – energy has always been the lifeblood of Appalachia. Fifty-three years later, born out of the strife and blood of the Civil War, West Virginia was created,” Jeffries said. “Our state’s fortunes and challenges have always been directly linked to those energies, namely coal. We now have some technology that has to do with rare earth minerals. I asked him to come to West Virginia, come and see our mountains, it’s a beautiful place.”

Jeffries said he nearly fell to his knees when top Berkshire Hathaway executive Bill Furman gave him a call and told him Buffett had read his letter and said “get on this.” Jeffries also did just that.

“After I sent the letter, I started getting legislators involved, officials involved and we put together a team,” Jeffries said. “We started going out throughout the state looking for areas that we could have some impact in. I actually drove them all around West Virginia, and we ended up with Jackson County. When Bill looked at the site, he made the determination right then – that we can do something.”

That longshot letter culminated in a $500 million Berkshire Hathaway investment. The Fortune 500 leader will develop a 2,000 acre, first-of-its-kind renewable energy microgrid-powered industrial site where the old Century Aluminum plant employed hundreds for decades.

Precision Castparts Corporation, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. business, will be the first company to locate on the site and will develop a state-of-the-art titanium melt facility that will use 100 percent renewable energy to manufacture titanium products for the aerospace and other industries.

Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael said the aerospace parts plant is only the first of several projected for the Jackson County site.

“There will be a cluster of industries that both supplies and off takes from the titanium manufacturer with aerospace,” Carmichael said. “We envision this as the aerospace hub for advanced manufacturing materials handling for North America.”

Carmichael said nearly 100 percent of the major corporations he’s now attempting to recruit to West Virginia want renewable energy in their potential site plan.

“People and companies, their stockholders and so forth, are imploring them to decarbonize. West Virginia has got a great heritage with our fossil fuel industry and we’re going to continue to provide energy to the world,” Carmichael said. “But we also want to be an ‘all of the above’ energy state. If you want to locate a renewable facility here, then you’re welcome.”

Ravenswood is in Sen. Amy Grady’s, R-Mason, district. She said compared to the economic growth in the Eastern Panhandle, the western side of the state is sometimes overlooked.

“I’m really excited that this company looked around the entire state of West Virginia and decided to settle on the area in Jackson County,” Grady said. “That speaks a lot about the huge companies like Nucor, and now Berkshire Hathaway coming into that small demographic right there.”

Jeffries said with all the talk of partisanship and miscommunication in state government, he simply wrote a letter, then made some calls and formed a bi-partisan team that got the job done.

“It’s by working together that we have come to where we are today,” Jeffries said. ”West Virginia is the place that people are looking for. People are looking to locate here.”