POINT PLEASANT — West Virginia’s new Secretary of Commerce C. Edward Gaunch, recently visited Mason County, attending a luncheon/roundtable with local business leaders and elected officials. In addition, new members to the local business community from the Far Eastern New Century group were welcomed and employees honored.
The event took place at the Mason County Career Center, with lunch being served by the students in the ProStart culinary program. Other students in various technical education preparation programs also presented information to show off the county’s young workforce.
John Musgrave, director of the Mason County Development Authority, said a highlight of the luncheon was an opportunity to officially welcome representatives from the Far Eastern group and introduce them to the business community. The Far Eastern group’s Chuck Tseng, president of Far Eastern Manufacturing and Hermia Tsai, legal counsel for the Far Eastern group, represented the company which purchased the former Apple Grove Polymers Plant.
Musgrave said, in addition, Richard Macck, Rocky Sturgeon and Jeff Fowler, management and administration at the plant, were recognized for their efforts in keeping the Apple Grove facilities operational following the business’ closure as a new buyer was sought, with the Far Eastern group emerging to reopen it under the APG Polytech banner. Musgrave said it was his understanding the company offered everyone who was terminated following the closure a position with the newly formed APG Polytech, with around just over 100 employees at the plant.
Musgrave said he was also happy to have Gaunch visit with the business community.
Gaunch, a former state senator and native of Boone County, was appointed to the position in January by Gov. Jim Justice. The Secretary spoke with the Register on Wednesday and was to leave for China and Japan the next day on a business trip with economic development in West Virginia, as a focus.
“I believe (Mason County) is ground zero for industrial development in West Virginia,” Gaunch said, adding, Mason County is an anomaly in a state where finding “good, flat land sites” is an issue.
He explained his office wants to be of assistance to bring that growth to the county.
“How I view the economic development process…it’s locally driven,” he said. “You need someone like John Musgrave or someone else who has a vision, and are not just waiting for the state to bring someone there. We need these local economic development folks.”
Gaunch used a fishing analogy, saying once the “fish was hooked” by economic development leaders, his office acts like the “first mate” and helps get the fish in the boat.
Strong leadership at the local level was crucial, he explained, also speaking about specific ways his office can help reel in that big fish.
“We can be a player with local government and economic development folks to help arrange financing and grants,” he said, when asked about assisting with infrastructure needs.
A site which has long been “shopped around” by local development officials is the “Apple Grove” site (not to be confused with the former Apple Grove Polymers). This site/land is open for development. One of the holdups on developing it, has been a lack of infrastructure in the area – most notably, sewer service. The development authority is working on securing grant funding for an engineering study on installing sewer for not only the site, but a significant area around it. This is still in the development stage but Musgrave said his office is actively working to find a solution to the infrastructure needs in that location.
On the Apple Grove location, Gaunch said, “we need the right party at the right time…I think it’s a great site.”
Gaunch went on to say the site has already been looked at by two to three “major petrochemical industry players.”
He added, “it’s just a matter of time.”
Musgrave said the potential for development can also be found in “Opportunity Zones,” a federal program designed to incentivize investment in disadvantaged communities. President Trump signed of an executive order aimed at creating opportunity in distressed areas late last year.
A statement about these zones by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R) last December, included the following: “Opportunity Zones can be a game changer for West Virginia and a way to drive economic growth in the parts of our state that need it most. Investors have the chance to change lives in their own backyards. That’s what community is all about. The president’s action to create the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council will help maximize revitalization of and coordination for needy communities in West Virginia and throughout America. I’m proud President Trump has prioritized economic development and encouraged innovative solutions like Opportunity Zones, and I’ll continue working with the administration, as well as local and state leaders, to grow the economy and create more jobs and opportunity throughout our state.”
Musgrave said the Opportunity Zones could allow for significant financial returns in return for long-term investments in areas like Mason County.
Musgrave added “we’ve got a story here” in terms of existing economic growth and potential for more in the county. “There are great opportunities here.”
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.