Friday, February 12, 2010

The South Charleston Technology Park Imbroglio

Former Republican Secretary of State Betty Ireland is fightin' mad.

The issue that has earned her ire is the jurisdictional dispute over Dow's planned donation of its technological park in South Charleston. At one time the park, situated on a hilltop overlooking the industrial center of South Charleston, formed the center of Union Carbide's research efforts. I remember living near there twenty-five years ago. It was extremely busy and a center for some of the highest earning jobs in the area. It attracted a wide variety of highly educated people who worked there while living in the surrounding residenmtial sections of Charleston and South Charleston. Thousands of skilled employees worked to create new products. The buildings there are specially built to handle the unique needs of research and development.

Dow took over Union Carbide's properties years ago, but does not get enough use out of its facilities there to justify further ownership. It contacted Governor Joe Manchin to gauge his interest in a flat out handover of the property. The state government now leases several properties around the Charleston area to house various divisions of government. Ideally it could relocate those divisions to parts of the massive park and save money on rent. Furthermore it could continue to lease buildings to Dow and try and attract other renters to the facility.

There is one snag. State government offices by law must be located in the capital city. South Charleston does not want to cede valuable land and job attracting properties to Charleston. Charleston mayor Danny Jones has flat out promised a legal battle if the state jobs relocate to property in South Charleston.

Manchin is calling all together to find a solution. One might think that a solution could be worked out where part of the park can be annexed to Charleston and the state government offices placed there. The rest of the facility should remain within South Charleston. If the Governor is successful in promoting the remaining idle parts of the park for new tenancy, South Charleston would come out ahead.

Currently Morgantown, Fairmont, and Clarksburg are all seeing rapid growth due to their 21st century technological facilities tied closely to West Virginia University and Fairmont State University. Charleston and South Charleston, if they work together, could see tie ins to this park from West Virginia State University, West Virginia Tech, the University of Charleston, and Marshall University. The connections between these schools and private industry could make Charleston, South Charleston, Institute, and other surrounding towns nationally known as boom towns in the same manner as the three north central West Virginia cities. If our model, as many have stated, is North Carolina, then the juncture of higher education and technology is critical. However such ventures need facilities such as the tech park. If Charleston and South Charleston fiddle while this opportunity burns away, their leaders should be held to account by everyone in their cities and the whole state.

Betty Ireland has repeatedly made her presence felt on this issue. In repeated Facebook statements, she has asked that all parties just get this done. She is right. The people of West Virginia care about jobs, not jurisdiction. All of West Virginia should be concerned because increases in jobs, revenue, and tax base benefit us all. If we build our private sector base, we the state can collect more revenue while lowering the tax burden for everyone around the state. Solutions are possible if Charleston and South Charleston are willing to work together.

Just get it done.

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