Economic development summit sets goals, sees bright future for county
Dozens of Morgan County business owners gathered at Cacapon State Park Lodge on Wednesday, June 11 for an Economic Summit hosted by the Morgan County Economic Development Authority.
Fifty-five of the 63 business owners who were invited to the conference attended, said County Economic Development director Bill Clark,
Sally Marshall, president of Travel Berkeley Springs, acted as moderator. She said the goal of the summit was to bring business people together to focus on what is needed to move Morgan County forward.
Guest speakers were Gat Caperton of Caperton Furniture Works, Bob Marggraf of Carl M. Freeman Companies, attorney Charles Trump who chairs the CNB board, John Petersen of the Arlington Institute and Star Theater owner Jeanne Mozier.
People drive economy
Bringing economics down to its lowest common denominator, Gat Caperton said, People drive the economy. The more people you hav,e the more economy.
Caperton said the two most important roles of government are financing and building infrastructure, and long term planning. He pointed out that West Virginia leads the nation in sprawl due to lack of planning.
Put infrastructure in front of people, instead of bringing it in behind, Caperton said.
Impact of Coolfont
Bob Marggraf spoke about why people buy homes in Morgan County and the impact that the Villages at Coolfont is expected to have on the local economy.
He noted that 25% of Morgan County homes are second homes and that 6 out of every 10 visitors to Morgan County are from out of state.
A sense of community, arts and culture, natural beauty and short distances to Washington and Baltimore are the main reasons people buy in Morgan County, Marggraf said.
A West Virginia University Bureau of Business & Economic Development study predicts the potential impact of Freeman's Coolfont project will be $95.8 million at startup and$ 552.4 million over the 14 year duration of the project, he said.
At least $200 million of that will stay in Morgan County, according to Marggraf. He said much of the money leaving the county will be to purchase building supplies not available locally.
The study estimates 680 new jobs will be created at startup, with 496 additional jobs created over the duration of the project.
The completed project will generate $1.4 million in new property taxes and $4 million in new school taxes, he said.
Room for growth
Charles Trump told the group that the population density of Morgan County is lower than the population density of the state.
This is an excellent time to start a business in Morgan County, Trump said. We have lots of room for growth.
With the expansion of the sewer system in Berkeley Springs, the new middle and intermediate schools, and the expansion of the high school, some of the needed infrastructure for growth is already in place, he said.
He felt work is still needed in the areas of transportation and water management.
Trump pointed to a low crime rate and low taxes as incentives for people to buy in the county.
Noting that this is a good time to borrow, he said: It is extraordinary that within four blocks in Berkeley Springs, we have three large banking institutions. If you have a business plan, put it together and present it.
Trump suggested the creation of a venture capital fund to help small businesses get started.
Lots of people have great ideas, but not necessarily the finances, he said.
No need to be in the city
Futurist John Petersen said most general manufacturing has moved to Asia due to costs.
We are at the high end of the food chain. We can't compete with China, Petersen said.
However, the United States still leads the world in new ideas and information technology, he pointed out.
Businesses no longer need to be in the city anymore. I work the world from our little place on Fairfax Street, Petersen said.
He thought the proximity of international airports make Morgan County an ideal location for businesses.
Petersen said food and fuel prices will continue to rise and people in Washington and Baltimore will be looking to vacation closer home.
We have a unique combination of things here that can be leveraged, he said.
He suggested a main objective should be to get individuals from urban areas with money to visit and live here.
Mozier said economic growth is occurring in places that are tolerant, diverse and open to creativity.
There is not a single downtown area in West Virginia that is thriving without an arts presence, she said.
To attract creative people, the crucial factor is that Morgan County needs to be a place where creative people want to live, Mozier said.
She suggested the community needs a more comprehensive technical infrastructure, nighttime gathering places, and more diversity.
It's all marketing. We need to be talking about it and keep on talking. We need to be the poster child in West Virginia for the creative economy, Mozier said.
Marshall challenged each table to come up with the three most important issues that the Morgan County Economic Development Authority should work on.
After lunch, a list of issues was created from the input of each group. Everyone was then asked to vote on the issues they felt were most important.
The three top priorities were:
1. Improving technology and infrastructure, particularly cell phone and internet coverage.
2. Management of water resources.
3. Identifying, recruiting and training a work force.
Other ideas included improving the conference facilities at Cacapon State Park, enhancing cultural activities and higher education, more nightlife, hiring a building inspector and offering incentives at the county level for new businesses and alternative energy.