WSAZ Investigates: Where Are the Jobs?
A WSAZ investigation looks at corporate promises to bring jobs to our region. We recalled several of those promises that are still up in the air, even years later.
It starts with news conferences, marching bands, streamers and smiling politicians. All the trappings of a major jobs announcement. But after the steamers are swept up and the band and politicians head home, the real work begins.
It began quickly at one local facility. Construction's nearly complete at the $30 million dollar Harbison-Walker plant at the Point Industrial Park in South Point, Ohio, where high-paying industrial jobs will soon be filled.
Bill Dingus with the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation says what began quickly has remained on track. "Probably eight months ago you announced this," Dingus told us. "Seven months ago we started a project, and today they're moving into operation, fully finished and they have a certificate of occupancy."
If only life worked like that every time. The reality is many big plans remain just that for a very long time ... plans. So we started digging to see where some of the big projects stand, and where are the jobs these companies promised?
May 31, 2016. A major announcement and celebration in eastern Kanawha County for Ranger Scientific. The company promises a factory turning out high grade ammunition, employing hundreds of well paid workers. Local leaders were positively giddy.
"There's between four and five hundred (jobs) first phase," Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper said that day in 2016. "These are huge paying jobs with huge salaries, huge benefits, and the spin-off is seven times that."
But nearly two years later, and not so much as a golden shovelful of dirt at a ceremonial groundbreaking. Still, Carper remains hopeful. "Some referred to it as fishy, it wasn't going to happen. I've made this comment before, I'll make it again ... if economic development was so easy, everything would be economically developed. I've never given up on it."
Apparently, neither has the company. Just last week, Ranger Scientific CEO Daniel Pearlson told us by phone, his company has never even considered building anywhere else.
Pearlson says the delay can be blamed on the permitting process, which he claims is being resolved. He says they still have every intention of breaking ground in Quincy, West Virginia by the second quarter of this year. Clearly, time will tell.
There's perhaps no bigger economic development disappointment than the plans for a huge project in Scioto County, Ohio.
People who there for the big announcement in 2007 probably can't forget the words of then governor, Ted Strickland. "We're talking about the potential for just hundreds and hundreds of construction jobs," Strickland told the crowd gathered around a makeshift stage in the town of Haverhill, Ohio. "We're talking about the potential of a thousand permanent jobs."
Russian steelmaker MMK announced their intention to build a steel mill along the Ohio River in Haverhill. Eleven years later, not even one job. So what happened? It's a question that's never really been answered -- by the county, the state or the company. Perhaps the economic collapse and recession in 2008 is to blame.
But government leaders everywhere, like Kent Carper 80 miles down the road in Kanawha County, will tell you never give up.
In fact, we've been told by more than one well placed source, just within the past few weeks, that the steel mill project is back on, maybe not the front burner just yet, but at least the middle burner.
If so, it would be the largest in a number of local industrial developments,including the Braidy Industries aluminum plant with more than 500 jobs for Greenup and Boyd counties.
Dingus at Lawco Economic Development says the best thing about big projects, they nearly always lead to additional growth.
"So you'll see hopefully additional expansions from Harbison-Walker that will lead to other items," Dingus says. "That's one of the reasons we work so hard to get a new company in here because of their expansion potential."
Of course, not all economic development makes big, splashy headlines. The city of Huntington points to a number of federal grants, donations and private investment that have led to what Mayor Steve Williams says is 700 jobs in the past year.
Bill Bissett with the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce says the jobs associated with all those new downtown businesses really do add up.
"Most of our chamber members are two to fifty employees," Bissett says. "So every one of those jobs is important. It's someone putting food on their table, helping their family and helping the economy of this region."