Looking into the future

  It’s sometimes so easy to get caught up in the anxiousness that surrounds bad news when it hits our region that we lose sight of the good things that are around us. Our region’s retail sector, for instance, has taken quite a few hits in the last year or so. Sears Holdings Corp., in particular, has not been good to our area. Last January, we learned that the company planned to close its Kmart store in the Tri-State Plaza. Shortly after, it was announced that the Sears department store and auto center at the Fort Steuben Mall would be closed. And then in December, we learned that the Kmart store in Weirton was slated to be shuttered. Those closings, part of the company’s strategy to try to prop itself up, eliminated stores that had a longtime presence in our market. On Jan. 4, meanwhile, we learned that Macy’s would be closing its store in the Fort Steuben Mall. When the lights are finally shut off, it will mark the end for a store that opened as a branch of Pittsburgh’s Kaufmann’s in 1974, back when the mall was new. The closings affect our area in many different ways and are especially difficult on the employees who will lose their jobs and members of their families. Closed stores also leave open spaces in shopping complexes — but not in all cases: Rural King quickly opened a store in the old Kmart store in the Tri-State Plaza — and reduce the options for area residents when it’s time to make a purchase. That’s all bad news, to be sure. But there’s reason for optimism, as we were reminded on Jan. 6. That’s when Bill Flanagan, chief corporate relations officer for the Allegheny Conference on Economic Development, spoke to members of the Steubenville Rotary Club. Flanagan said the economy in Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and Eastern Ohio is in pretty good shape and is expected to grow. Helping to drive that expansion are some huge projects, including Shell’s planned ethane cracker in Monaca in Beaver County and planned renovations of several locks and dams in the northern portion of the Ohio River. That’s nearly $10 billion in planned construction in those projects alone, and the workers that will do the jobs will come from across our region. There’s also the emergence of the Pittsburgh region as a high-tech center where innovation is expected that will certainly rival — if not exceed — what is being done in the Silicon Valley. Flanagan is not alone in his outlook. When you have the opportunity to talk with Pat Ford, executive director of the Business and Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle; Evan Scurti, executive director of the Jefferson County Port Authority; or Ed Looman, Eastern Ohio project manager for the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth, there’s much going on that means the long-term outlook for the region is bright. Those positive points include the Rock Springs Business Park that is being built on the site of the old TS&T Pottery in Chester, upgrades to the Jefferson County Airpark that will make the airport just outside of Wintersville even more accessible to private and business jets, expansion at the Jefferson County Industrial Park and the work being done in Mingo Junction that is expected to lead to the re-opening of portions of the old mill site. There’s a negative effect any time a business closes, a toll that largely comes at the expense of men and women who worked hard to make the business grow, employees and owners. And, while our region has seen too many doors closed and far too many people lose their jobs, it appears that there is reason to be a little more optimistic than usual as we look into 2017 and beyond. http://www.heraldstaronline.com/opinion/local-columns/2017/01/looking-into-the-future-2/