Economic Summit targets education as top priority
by Jeanne Mozier
A group of more than 50 business leaders and employers in Morgan County rated education as the top priority for development of the local economy at the countywide Economic Summit on November 28. Produced by the Morgan County Economic Development Authority, the summit was facilitated by Sally Marshall.
Education, as it relates to economic development, was defined as a continuum. Work force development was cited with concerns about basic entry level skills, including “showing up” and not using electronic devices at inappropriate times. Trades and “real life” training were mentioned as well as training for interpersonal skills.
A job skills survey, internships and business mentoring were proposed as actions. There were high expectations for Blue Ridge Technical College to address many of these issues.
Desirable education activities for youth included Start Your Own Business Day at Berkeley Springs High School and Warm Springs Middle School, as well as more emphasis on participation in science fairs and projects.
Improved telecommunication/technology was the second priority, dropping from the top priority spot at an earlier summit in 2008. People still want reliable cell signal everywhere in the county, but now it needs to be higher speed to accommodate mobile devices. Telecommunications infrastructure was also seen as crucial for tourism. A regional focus group on the topic was recommended.
Tourism was rated third. Adding votes for recreation and trails to tourism put that combined category only one vote short of telecommunications as a priority. Among specific recommendations for action related to tourism were opening Lovers Leap to the public as an attraction and developing the North Berkeley Rail Trail.
“The rail/trail project would help development at the north end of the county,” said EDA chairperson, Beth Curtin.
A master list of 10 primary recommendations was developed through small group discussions. Each group reported their top three recommendations for action, which were assembled into the final list. Attendees voted their priorities.
Downtown issues ranked fourth in priority and ranged from parking and the widespread reputation of Berkeley Springs as a speed trap, to a call for initiatives to revitalize business and address empty storefronts that may occur.
Transportation issues ranked fifth this year, including recommendations for Pan Tran and cab service as well as a specific call for a connector road from U.S. 522 to Fairview Drive. Another issue that earned barely a mention in 2008 but made the final list in 2012 was a call to identify and make available capital including tapping local resources and pooling dollars in a lending consortium.
Growing sustainable industries, especially those related to energy, through defining and marketing opportunities, was rated sixth.
A call for regional and state coordination with improved contacts throughout the Eastern Panhandle, in Charleston and Washington received a handful of votes but was seen as essential to implementing several higher rated priorities. Specifically mentioned planning needs were to target which areas of the county were most appropriate for development and a call for economic development efforts to take advantage of job and business opportunities presented by Cacapon State Park expansion.
The presentation of demographic information spurred discussin of both education and the impact of an aging population.
The final priority of the list proposed leveraging the resources and skills of the older age group through a “Talent Bank” that could also prove useful to Blue Ridge Technical College in their search for adjunct professors.
There was a call to attract young retirees by marketing the assets many of them find desirable in Berkeley Springs including location, costs, the presence of an active arts community and the ability to “make a difference.”
Although water and sewer as infrastructure needs were mentioned in passing by one group, it did not make the final cut and received no votes. In 2008, water issues were ranked second. Another non-issue in 2012 was using tax incentives for attracting businesses.
Seven short videos from the Quirky Business marketing campaign were debuted and can be seen on the EDA’s website.
“The same factors that proved successful in the first summit seemed to work again,” said Bill Clark, director of the Morgan County Economic Development Authority.
For more information or copies of the white papers presented, contact Clark at 304-258-8546.