In our office we have a framed copy of the front page of the Williamson Daily News and the main headline at the top reads “Basic Industry Called Mingo’s Biggest Need.”
The date was October 16, 1962.
Some things never change.
Although that was 53 years ago – it appears that even then – leaders saw the need for diversification of our local economy.
When coal was booming and the local railroad and other businesses spun off of that industry, there still needed to be more alternatives in our region.
For so many years our economy depended on the coal industry. However, it’s no secret that during the past seven years under the Obama administration, mining has taken a big hit.
With the new EPA regulations and the talk of climate control, the market for coal is no longer at the top of the fuel chain. In fact, so many have lost their jobs, that we are seeing a loss in population and many of our younger generation are not moving back to the area after college.
U.S. Senator Shelly Moore-Capito (R-W.Va.) visited Mingo County at the Buck Harless Wood Industrial Park this past week to meet with local leaders to talk about the same issues. Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Co-chair Earl Gohl held a meeting this week in Williamson to discuss similar matters.
Many others have visited in the past, but the needed diversification of our local industry and economic growth it would bring is still null and void.
The wood flooring plant has been up and down in regards to jobs since its inception back in 1999. Many local politicians, and the late Mike Whitt, who was Director of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, hoped that more factories would spin off from that plant.
The wood plant is built on post-mine land and let’s be honest, the 22 Mountain Mine road near Holden to the industrial park is not in the best location. The road is long, steep and curvy. It twists through the hills and it is tough for large trucks to traverse, especially in the winter months.
Steady jobs at the plant have not been the saving grace the area needed. There have always been layoffs and never completely three shifts working.
Having solid infrastructure in place is another problem that is still not where it should be in Mingo County. Without water, sewage and a good transportation system to export the products, it is difficult to attract new industry.
We can hope and pray that once we have a different presidential administration at the start of 2017 that the coal industry can bounce back.
A new coal boom would be a huge shot in the arm for this part of Appalachia. Without coal it is difficult for our economy to prosper.
Unless local officials could ever attract a Toyota Plant like in Putnam County – or something similar – good paying jobs will be hard to come by in the coalfields.
We applaud the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, the Health Innovation Hub, the Mingo County Commission and many others who are working to bring new business, ideas and jobs to the area.
Let’s hope we can make it through another few months of a stifled economy and then rebound back to where the region was in the past.
Until then we will continue to survive. We are a proud people and we will never give up.