POINT PLEASANT — A roundtable for local business owners and elected officials was recently organized by the office of Congresswoman Carol Miller (R) with assistance from the Mason County Development Authority, creating a dialogue about economic development and options available to small business owners and communities via different programs.
Some officials from the Trump Administration were on hand for the event. Leading the roundtable discussion were Miller; Michelle Christian, Mid-Atlantic regional administrator with the U.S. Small Business Administration; U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development West Virginia State Director Kris Warner; and Krista Cox, Appalachian Regional Commission program specialist with West Virginia Community Advancement and Development, a division of the West Virginia Development Office.
Christian told the assembled, her boss, President Donald J. Trump, has made business development a priority. She spoke about the deregulation of the Environmental Protection Agency as well as community grants available in opportunity zones, calling the latter, a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for communities to get free money.”
Opportunity Zones are a federal program designed to incentivize investment in disadvantaged communities. President Trump signed an executive order aimed at creating opportunity in distressed areas late last year. Christian echoed the sentiments of Mason County Development Authority Director John Musgrave who previous told the Register, opportunity zones could allow for significant financial returns in return for long-term investments in areas like Mason County.
Warner, appointed by President Trump, spoke about some of the 49 programs USDA Rural Development offers, including assisting with housing. He said the agency was not in competition with banks and could guarantee home loans for qualifying applicants. This program can be an incentive to draw people back to communities, he said.
Warner spoke about grants and financial assistance for those 65 or older, and those under 65, who want to improve their homes, which can include improvements to roofs, windows, heating, air conditioning, wheelchair ramps and more.
Community facilities and rural utilities services can also benefit from the USDA programs which can provide financial assistance for roads, bridges, sidewalks, generators for government buildings, vehicles for police, EMS and fire stations, and more.
“…If you were building a town from the ground up, there’s nothing USDA Rural Development does not touch,” Warner said.
He then spoke about the REAP program which provides grants and low interest loans for businesses meant to retain and grow jobs in rural America by upgrading to energy saving technology.
The budget for USDA Rural Development comes from the U.S. Congress. The budget for West Virginia’s USDA Rural Development was $389 million last year, Warner said.
There was also a discussion on energy in Appalachia, with Christian saying President Trump had asked for a report exploring why it is important to have “energy” in the area.
“We need to think of these energy jobs as bigger than just energy, it is transforming communities that were deserted by previous policies…no fault of the communities,” Christian said. “…The president is looking to change all that.”
Speaking on the ARC, Cox stated with money allocated through the U.S. Congress each year, right now, a priority in West Virginia was funding water, sewer and infrastructure projects.
However, the ARC provides funding for several hundred investments in the Appalachian Region, in areas such as business development, education and job training, telecommunications, infrastructure, community development, housing, and transportation – many of these projects create new jobs and improve communities.
Reflecting on the visit, Miller stated, “Today, we brought business owners, community leaders, and officials from the Trump Administration together to tour Point Pleasant and discuss how we can ensure that this community remains a place where people can live, work and raise a family. I am optimistic that the partnerships created today will strengthen small businesses in the area, create new good-paying jobs, and diversify the economy.”
In addition, the panel and guests went on a tour of downtown Point Pleasant, organized by Musgrave to show the community’s involvement and efficiency at starting and completing projects involving grants and matching funds, as well as fundraising. The tour included all of Riverfront Park, including the flood wall murals, the downtown business district and the splash pad at Krodel Park. The event was held at the historic Lowe Hotel.
For more information on the aforementioned agencies and programs, go to https://www.arc.gov/appalachian_region/WestVirginia.asp , https://www.rd.usda.gov/wv , https://www.sba.gov
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Pubilshing.