Across the State | Top Story

Representatives of the local business community gathered for a more casual affair Tuesday, as the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce held its annual membership meeting.

Chamber members got together for a picnic-style meal, with live entertainment and networking opportunities at the Serbian Picnic Grounds. Typically, the Chamber holds a more formal banquet event in March, but, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, it was canceled in 2020 and had to be pushed back this year.

“It’s been a long 15 months,” Weirton Chamber President Brenda Mull said in welcoming those in attendance.

Mull took a few moments to thank the event sponsors, which included Trinity Health System at the gold level; Southwestern Energy and Steel & Wolfe Funeral Home at silver; and Apollo Restoration, Eastern Gateway Community College, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Frankevitch, Anetakis, Simon DeCapio and Peal LLP; Frontier Group of Companies, The Ridgefield Group, and West Virginia Northern Community College as bronze sponsors.

Much of the pomp of the traditional banquet wasn’t featured Tuesday, with only a few recognitions presented.

An increase in regional jail fees left the Brooke County Commission concerned Tuesday.

County Commissioner Tim Ennis said the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority is expected to consider increasing the daily rate paid by counties for each inmate sent to regional jails from $48.25 to $54.88.

“That’s something we did not budget for,” Ennis said, noting there’s been word the rate hike could become effective next month.

Ennis said the county pays about $300,000 each year through the fees.

Jail officials say the money helps them to pay for food and other expenses entailed in housing individuals awaiting their day in court following their arrests.

“When they’re convicted and go into a penitentiary, they come off our bill,” said Ennis.

He said few know that county commissions pay for the inmates who were arrested by municipal police departments within their counties’ borders.

Ennis estimated municipal arrests account for about a fourth of the county’s inmates lodged in a regional jail.

He said the West Virginia Association of Counties, a statewide group of county officials, is pushing for changes to the jail fee structure, which could include requiring cities to contribute to the cost.

Commission President A.J. Thomas said, “There’s a lot of pushback from municipalities because that’s a bill they’ve never had.”

— The Intelligencer/ Wheeling News-Register

Ohio County Schools will receive more than $12 million in federal relief dollars, and officials said Thursday they will use the funds to address a growing learning loss problem among students following the 2020-2021 school year.

School officials on Thursday announced its strategy for spending the $12,229,566 the school district expects to get from the American Rescue Plan over the next three years.

More than half of the money — $6,559,975 — is being earmarked toward “learning loss” and improving one-to-one communication with struggling students, said JoJo Shay, innovation coordinator for Ohio County Schools.

The school district has in the plan $1 million to hire six interventionist personnel to assist students over the next three years, and also intends to employ a second school psychologist for a total of $170,000 over that time.

The employees would be informed at the time of their hiring that their jobs might be terminated following the three-year period, said Susan Nolte, human resources director.

Steven Bieniek, business manager, added the school district hopes the employees hired would be retained through attrition.

Other money set aside under “learning loss” includes $1.1 million for “technology device continuation” and the purchase of Chromebooks, and $1 million for innovation spaces and their equipment.

— The Intelligencer/ Wheeling News-Register

MVB Bank Inc. has announced the formation of a new wholly owned subsidiary, MVB Edge Ventures.

Based on a private equity fund model, MVB Edge Ventures provides management oversight, alignment and structure for MVB’s technology investments and allocates resources to help incubate technologies developed by MVB, officials said. Three companies now fall under the MVB Edge Ventures structure: Victor Technologies Inc. (Victor); MVB Technology LLC (GRAND); and Flexia Payments LLC (Flexia).

“With the launch of MVB Edge Ventures, MVB continues to set ourselves apart from the pack on the financial frontier. We don’t just bank Fintech companies, we also create, develop and invest in them. The three new businesses under the new MVB Edge Ventures umbrella already have significant traction,” said Larry F. Mazza, president, CEO, MVB Financial.

MVB created the Victor platform to make it faster and easier to launch and scale a broad spectrum of Fintech solutions for the Gaming, Payments, Banking-as-a-Service and Digital Asset sectors, officials said.

— The Exponent Telegram

The West Virginia University EcoCAR team finished third in year three of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors and Mathworks, EcoCAR is a collegiate automotive engineering competition. EcoCAR Mobility Challenge tasks 11 universities across North America to redesign the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer into an energy-efficient hybrid. The WVU team brought home more than $16,000 in awards with the third-place finish.

The EcoCAR team is a collaborative cross disciplinary project from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and Reed College of Media. The team competes annually, along with teams from other universities, to show how they implement their designs, energy-efficient technologies, car-sharing capabilities and communication strategies.

“We’ve had great success in the last few years, but it’s different every year — it’s a different set of students and everyone has to relearn all of the skills that they need to do well, and we’ve had an amazing set of graduate students and undergraduate students this year that did exactly that,” said Andrew Nix, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and lead faculty advisor for EcoCAR. “I’m very proud of this team — developing such a well-integrated vehicle is simply amazing.”

Among several approvals for next steps to be taken in bond projects during Monday night’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting, ZMM was approved unanimously as the architect for the construction on the new Shepherdstown and Ranson elementary schools.

Deputy Superintendent of Operations Joyce White reminded attendees that the district is required to comply with West Virginia Code 5G-1, which, in regard to the procurement of architectural and engineering services, negotiations on prices can only begin after approval by the board. If the district was to not be able to reach an agreement with ZMM, it would begin negotiating with its second recommendation, McKinley, and if it couldn’t reach an agreement once more, it would more to the third recommendation, Thrasher. Once the district moves out of negotiations with a company, it may not return to that company.

ZMM bought out the company that recently completed Jefferson County’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, with the district having a good relationship with the team members. ZMM is a full-service company with much experience in building new educational facilities around the state. Project manager Allegra Enochs said the company has designed more than 30 educational projects, including 15 new elementary schools in the last five years, an average of three per year.

The Berkeley County Council approved unanimously Thursday afternoon to deny a petition to remove a portion of property within the Tuscarora Community Zoning Ordinance following overwhelming public input during last week’s public hearings requesting the zoned land remain protected.

Council members and council President Doug Copenhaver. who joined the meeting via telephone, heard a brief presentation from legal counsel Anthony Delligatti relaying the process that brought council members to the decision-making step of the process.

According to Delligatti, a petition was submitted by the Steptoe family, which owns a portion of property in the center of the Tuscarora Community Zoning Ordinance, which requested permission to remove its property from the ordinance so it might able to open the land up to potential commercial or subdivision construction.

Delligatti said after receiving the petition, the Berkeley County Planning Commission set and held a public hearing. The commission then submitted its recommendation to deny the petition to the council.

Berkeley County Sheriff Nathan Harmon addressed the public during a Facebook Live on Wednesday in regard to the county’s drug problem and the department’s stance.

The stream related to recent criticism and negative comments seen on Facebook posts by the sheriff, many in relation to marijuana seizures. Harmon said he doesn’t want the comments on social media to overshadow the work done by local law enforcement or overshadow the message of the department.

“The intent and message have been overshadowed by those that don’t want the truth to come out, by those that feel that marijuana is harmless,” he said.

Harmon stressed that his words were not directed at those who use marijuana at home recreationally or for medicinal purposes.

“I voted for the medical use of marijuana pilot program that has started in Berkeley County,” Harmon said. “I feel that there is medicinal uses for marijuana as it pertains to different ailments. I’m not against that. I’m not even against if you use it recreationally at your own home, in the confines of your own walls, or even if it’s legalized recreationally. What I concern myself with, and the reason I felt I was voted as your Berkeley County sheriff, was to protect the public and keep our citizens safe.”

Following lengthy airings of complaints about the quality of service provided by Suddenlink Communications, a majority comprised of four City Council members and Mayor Beverly White voted in favor of continuing Lewisburg’s relationship with the company.

A public hearing and second reading of the ordinance granting the firm permission to operate within the city limits for another five years will likely take place at next month’s meeting, after a new Council is seated.

Suddenlink is the name under which Altice S.A., a company based in France, provides telephone, internet and cable television service to approximately 350,000 West Virginia customers, including many in and around Lewisburg.

Both Greenbrier County and city officials have a long history of saber-rattling when Suddenlink’s franchise renewals arise. But after tabling the renewal ordinances a time or two, those same officials always acknowledge they have no other option but to vote for renewal, out of fear that if Suddenlink leaves, no other communications company stands ready to fill the gap in services.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport and West Virginia University at Parkersburg are looking at setting up a flight school at the airport.

Airport Manager Glen Kelly along with Chad Crumbaker, WVU-P provost/executive vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, and WVU-P Dean Senta Goudy appeared before the Wood County Commission on Thursday to discuss the idea.

The airport is now the second busiest in the state, according to FAA figures, Kelly said, adding the airport is third in the state for economic impact. with around $153 million brought into the area. The airport has been seeing increased use recently with Contour Airlines.

“I think we have a real opportunity to look into the future by adding a flight school with WVU-P,” Kelly said.

The airport is also looking at establishing an A&P Mechanics program to teach people to work on aircraft engines, he said.

Kelly said airports across the state are seeing more opportunity for expansion and business development in the aviation industry, which in turn will bring in new jobs. The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport has around 1,300 acres.

“Ours has not really been developed for the aviation industry,” Kelly said.

Some estimates say there will be a need for 110,000 additional pilots nationwide by 2028.

— Parkersburg News and Sentinel

The company that owns Grand Central Mall filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but said day-to-day operations at its properties should remain the same.

Washington Prime Group announced in a press release that it was voluntarily beginning a restructuring process in an agreement supported by creditors that hold approximately 73% of its principal secured corporate debt and 67% of its unsecured notes.

The company has secured $100 million from the consenting creditors to support day-to-day operations during the Chapter 11 process and “ensure that all business operations continue in the ordinary course without interruption.”

“The company’s financial restructuring will enable WPG to right size its balance sheet and position the company for success going forward,” Washington Prime Group CEO and Director Lou Conforti said in the release. “During the financial restructuring, we will continue to work toward maximizing the value of our assets and our operating infrastructure. The company expects operations to continue in the ordinary course for the benefit of our guests, tenants, vendors, stakeholders and colleagues.”

— Parkersburg News and Sentinel

WorkForce West Virginia announced Tuesday that the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the month of May was 5.5%.

That is a three-tenths percentage point drop from April’s rate and remains lower than the national average of 5.8% for May, according to WorkForce’s monthly unemployment release.

Total nonfarm payroll employment decreased 2,400 in May, with declines of 1,800 in the service-providing sector and 600 in the goods-producing sector.

Within the goods-producing sector, employment decreased 300 in construction, 200 in manufacturing, and 100 in mining and logging. Within the service-providing sector, employment gains included 1,800 in leisure and hospitality, 1,000 in professional and business services, 400 in financial activities, and 100 in information. Employment declines included 4,500 in government, 500 in trade, transportation, and utilities, and 100 in education and health services. Employment remained unchanged in other services.

West Virginia’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased seven-tenths of a percentage point to 5.0% in May 2021.