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Business park proposed in W.Va.

August 15, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Officials should focus on attracting good paying jobs to a proposed business park to be built off W.Va. 9 on the Berkeley/Jefferson County line, Bob Crawford, director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, said Wednesday.

"I feel we need to be pursuing (the) direction of information technology, document handling," Crawford said, calling jobs in that field good ones that will benefit everyone.

Members of the Berkeley County Development Authority discussed the proposed Berkeley-Jefferson Regional Business Park Wednesday morning and displayed an enlarged aerial photograph of the 308-acre parcel of land, which now consists of fruit trees and fields. Two-thirds of the land is in Jefferson County.

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The land, which is on the north side of W.Va. 9, is about five miles from Martinsburg and around 10 miles from Charles Town, according to notations on the aerial photograph.

Officials previously had declined to specify the location of the park, saying only that it straddled the county line. Some details have not been worked out.

Development Authority officials from both counties have a contract with the land's owner for its purchase, contingent on the receipt of $5.8 million from the state Economic Development Grant Committee.

Crawford said he's not sure whether the land will be divided into firm lots, or whether more flexibility will be given.

A message left at the Jefferson County Development Authority office Wednesday was not returned.

A portion of the land borders the Ecolab plant, and water and sewer lines could be extended from there, Crawford said. Natural gas and electric lines could easily be installed because they are in place at other nearby buildings, including Quebecor Printing and the Coast Guard and IRS facilities.

A portion of the land runs parallel to the CSX tracks, allowing for railroad access if needed.

Underground telecommunications lines are already in the area, Crawford said.

Del. Vicki Douglas, a Development Authority member, drew laughs from those at the meeting when she said it needs to be made clear that "we're not just going to fill it up with a bunch of box handlers."

After the meeting, she said those types of jobs are important, but that the Panhandle would do better to try to diversify its industry.

"I know we don't think of information as an industry, but it is," said Douglas, D-Berkeley.

Douglas said jobs in the information and technology industries tend to offer more advancement opportunities for employees.

In the past, officials statewide have "used whatever property we've had for the first guy that walked in the door," she said. Because this is a growing area, she said Berkeley and Jefferson county officials can be more selective.

The land's proximity to the technology-oriented Northern Virginia area, along with Jefferson County's plan to build a technology center, mean it could be a prime place for high-tech industries, said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Crawford and others could soon know whether they will receive the necessary grant money.

The park project is one of 67 competing for $130 million in grant money. Another $70 million is earmarked for a proposed outlet mall in Wheeling, W.Va.

A public hearing will be held to gauge public opinion on the business park and four other Panhandle projects that are being considered. The money could be distributed by the end of the year, said Tax and Revenue Secretary Brian Kastick.

Douglas said people who live near the park's proposed site and favor the idea should be encouraged to speak at the hearing.

Grant committee members narrowed the number of projects they are considering from 195 to 67 Monday night.

Other local projects still alive include a $15 million proposal to build a second high school in Jefferson County, a $6.8 million project to restore the B&O Roundhouse complex in Martinsburg and a $1 million proposal to build a terminal at Eastern Regional Airport.

Unger said he spoke to a member of the grant committee, who was impressed not only with the business park project itself, but also with the cooperation between Jefferson and Berkeley officials.

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