Follansbee Chamber hears from BDC official

FOLLANSBEE — The head of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle shared some news about the Follansbee Steel property after fielding questions about bringing restaurant or retail chains to the city.

BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said, following Wednesday’s chamber meeting at the Follansbee Presbyterian Church, that agreements are pending with three businesses interested in the former steel mill site.

Two are involved with manufacturing for the natural gas industry and the other is involved in the treatment of metal products, he said.

“Any one of these (pending agreements) could be reached by the fall,” Ford said.

He said the three could create up to 75 jobs collectively while also bringing more tax dollars and customers to many of the small businesses in the chamber.

Since acquiring the land in fall 2016, the BDC has been pursuing an environmental assessment of the site. Ford said property north of State Street has been found clean while soil samples from land south of the street are being analyzed.

During the meeting Ford was asked about prospects for bringing a major restaurant chain or clothing or shoe store to the city.

He said it’s challenging to attract such businesses because they consider several criteria in determining future locations.

They include the level of disposable income available to an area’s consumer base and the cost for development, including local permits required of businesses.

Ford said other factors are current consumer trends affecting chains nationally, such as the growing number of online sales and a tendency for people to wear the same type of clothing at work, home and when going out for pleasure.

Opening a new location is a risk many chains don’t want to take.

“No one wants to be the first big chain to locate in your community,” he said.

“The only thing you can do is create an environment in which they want to locate,” Ford said, adding city officials can do that by making information for potential new businesses readily available.

Ford said there is hope for economic development, however, in the form of industrial development tied to the natural gas and oil industry.

He said as much as $77 billion has been invested in such development between Monaca, Pa. and Dilles Bottom, Ohio, where two natural gas cracker plants are planned.

Ford said a diverse economy is important, and in recent years $415 million has been invested in the Ohio Valley for businesses involved in value added metals and transportation logistics as well as energy and chemical production, with another $120 million invested in healthcare.

He said foreign companies are interested in investing in American ventures, as evidenced by the opening of Weirton facilities by Italy-based Pietro Fiorentini and Canada’s Bidell Gas Compression.

Chamber President Debbie Puskarich encouraged chamber members and others to support the local businesses that already exist, employing local residents and supporting the community through tax dollars and donations to various causes.

Chamber members also heard from Pat Accettolo, a member of its school grant committee, who said the school grant program begun by former president Tony Paesano will continue with two $300 grants to be available to teachers at Brooke Primary North, formerly Hooverson Heights Primary School; and Brooke Intermediate North, formerly Jefferson Primary School.

She said grant applications will be provided to the two schools and teachers will have until Oct. 26 to return them.

“We’re asking teachers to think outside the box and do something different with their students,” said Puskarich.

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