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Quiet approach works for Berkeley County

April 26, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When officials announced the opening of a new fiberglass manufacturing plant here this week, it was just one example of an "extemely busy" development market in Berkeley County.

To many Berkeley Countians, its a process they never see.

Sometimes cloaked in secrecy, county officials say they are constantly fielding phone calls from corporate officials about possibly locating new industry in the county.

Sometimes the callers will only identify themselves by first name, said Berkeley County Commission President Jim Smith, who is also a member of the Berkeley County Development Authority, the county agency in charge of attracting business to the county.

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Smith said company officials are often secretive about their actions because they do not want their competition to know what their plans are.

Smith said the calls are "a weekly occurrence almost. It's a constant effort. It's like the assembly line this plant has," Smith said as he stood in a former AT&T warehouse off the Tabler Station Road exit off Interstate 81 Wednesday.

Smith was one of many dignitaries who celebrated Guardian Fiberglass' decision to build a fiberglass insulation plant in the former AT&T building.

Guardian Fiberglass, which operates three other fiberglass insulation plants in North America, said it expects to hire 150 people when it finishes work converting the warehouse into a manufacturing plant.

Company officials said the plant could be opened by the middle of next year.

Corporate inquiries about Berkeley County come several ways, said Bob Crawford, executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, which is located at 110 West Burke St., in Martinsburg. If they are not made directly to the authority, sometimes they come through the West Virginia Development Office, which was the case with Guardian, Crawford said.

Smith said the first questions a company usually asks about Berkeley County is whether it has zoning and what its labor environment and tax structure are like.

Zoning, which involves designating certain areas of the county for development, has been a controversial issue in Berkeley County. Voters soundly defeated a proposal to allow zoning last May following a vigorous anti-zoning camaign.

The idea behind zoning is to provide orderly growth for the county, and protect property owners from any development which might devaluate their property. But opponents said the county's subdivison regulations are strict enough to control growth.

Peter Walters, group vice president of Guardian Industries, said zoning was not a pressing issue for his company. In general, companies have different attitudes toward zoning based on what their needs are, said Walters.

In Guardian's case, Berkeley County was attractive because the company's truck fleet will be close to the Tri-State Area's interstate system, Walters said. Guardian also liked Berkeley County because the area's electric rates are competitive, Walters said. Guardian uses a large amount of electricity to make its insulation.

Corporate executives are not the only ones asking the questions, said Smith. Smith said county officials are always trying lure the best companies to the county, and making sure that they do not bring a host of pullution problems or only minimum wage jobs.

"So we're selective too," said Smith.

Crawford said the corporate speculation market slowed down last June as the country prepared for the presidential election. Companies will sometimes delay expansions until they determine who is elected president and how that person will approach business development in the country.

Since the election, activity has gradually increased, Crawford said. "We are extremely busy right now," said Crawford.

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