BEECH BOTTOM — The Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle is seeking a $2.6 million grant to help fund building improvements at the Beech Bottom Industrial park.
Executive Director Pat Ford said at least two prospects are “extremely interested” in locating in the building, formerly a corrugating plant. Because of confidentiality provisions, Ford said he can’t identify the companies. He did say the prospects are in the energy and value-added metals field, two of the growth industries identified in a 2012 marketing study the Business Development Corporation, or BDC, had done.
“What’s exciting is that we took a risk back in 2012,” he said. “A market study we commissioned had identified opportunities that would give us the space to meet projected demand if we acquired abandoned factories. Back then, they predicted the demand would be in five areas — energy-related industries, chemicals, value-added metals (cut, slit, formed coated galvanized or fabricated metals), transportation logistics (warehouse distribution) and health care. Beech Bottom was one of the first two sites we purchased to meet that demand.”
He said the five industry clusters identified in the marketing study currently employ more than 8,000 people locally.
Total price for upgrading the roof, floors and power grid at the Beech Bottom site to prepare the final one-third of the building for new tenants would be $3.2 million, he said. Hackman Capital, the BDC’s partner in the Beech Bottom project, providing a $600,000 local match.
“It’s critical,” Ford said. “We have not been able to lease that last one-third of building because of the (condition of the) roof, the floor and the power grid in that portion of the building. So now, there’s still great demand for building space in the 70-square-foot to 100,000-square-foot range. There’s a pressing demand for companies in the value-added metals and the energy business that need space in Ohio River Valley. They’re looking for landing spots and haven’t been able to find one. So we’ve worked with our investment partner, Hackman Capital, to put together a grant application.”
Ford said the roof in that portion of the 418,000-square-foot building “is like Swiss cheese.” He said they also need to level out the floor, which is pitted with holes left after the corrugating lines were removed from the property several years ago.
“Some are six-feet deep, probably as wide as 60-feet in length and 30-feet in width,” he said. “Some are as small as six-by-six. All of those pits need to be filled with concrete so the floor will be even. It needs a whole new floor to make it marketable.”
He said what’s exciting “about the Beech Bottom site in particular, and the Northern Panhandle in general, is that we’re still on the national and international radar for industries looking to” locate new facilities in the U.S.
“Prospects need buildings, and they need land,” he said. “That gets them to look. But the reason they’re deciding (to come here) is there’s a 30- to 50-year opportunity that shale gas provides for companies in value-added metals and infrastructure business. They tell us the infrastructure bones — rivers, roads, rail and abandoned brownfields — are in place here to support the growth of those two industry clusters — energy and value-added metals — as well as petrochemical companies. They say they can ship to local markets from our area and it takes only one or two days to arrive — that means the end users are at a maximum two days away. And we have a skilled labor force: Studies show the region has the second-lowest workforce turnover rate nationally, 15 percent below the national average. In the manufacturing sector, specifically, we have the lowest turnover rate — 31 percent below the national average.”
Since 2010, Ford said the BDC has benefited from $31.5 million in grants and loans from the U.S. EDA, U.S. EPA and WV EDA, with a $3.1 million grant pending for repurposing a former steel mill property in Weirton.