Upshur County Development Authority Director Robbie Skinner / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

Development Authority exploring ways to increase Buckhannon’s population in an effort to spur economic growth

BUCKHANNON – The director of the Upshur County Development Authority described current and future projects – and some dilemmas – that could impact economic development in the Buckhannon-Upshur community at a recent Rotary meeting.

Upshur County Development Authority Director and Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner attended the Nov. 7 Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur meeting to discuss the UCDA’s ongoing plan to extend reliable internet service throughout the county.

“A lot of money is being pumped into the state of West Virginia for broadband expansion, and we are right at the forefront of that at the Upshur County Development Authority, and we manage two grants,” Skinner said. “One is a tower grant; we have towers around Upshur County, Lewis County, Randolph and Barbour County, so you have a radio that’s up on the tower, and it beams the signal to a receiver at your house, and you receive internet access.”

“If you have Micrologic, you have this technology; if you have Lynx, you have this technology,” he added.

Skinner said all these towers are located on abandoned mine sites throughout those counties.

“The second grant is for fiber that’s in the ground, and that is in the southern part of West Virginia – it’s in Raleigh, Fayette, Greenbrier, Summers, Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming, so it’s a circle down in there and it’s it is all in the ground,” Skinner said. “In a more urban area, we have a lot of different services – we already have Micrologic, Lynx and Suddenlink, which is now Optimum.”

Skinner said Frontier and Citynet is coming into the area, so the UCDA’s focus is in the rural areas like southern Upshur, southeastern Upshur and parts of Randolph County.

“One of the challenges is finding those sites where we can put up a tower because even though they’re abandoned mine land areas, they’re still owned by people, and we must get permission from folks to allow us to put a tower up on their land,” he explained.

The Development Authority is also collaborating with the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce and the Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau to develop an economic impact study to determine the effects of large events taking place in Buckhannon.

“We host the state’s largest annual festival, the West Virginia Strawberry Festival, and we asked ourselves, ‘What does that do for our economy?’” Well, honestly, we don’t know, so we wanted to find out what events do for our economy,” Skinner recounted.

“If we’re going to bring somebody new in, we want to show them the impact their business can see on Main Street or in the downtown area or even out in the county, so we’re working on that, and I think it’s going to be very interesting to see the results,” he added.

Skinner highlighted some aspects of Buckhannon and Upshur County that may appeal to new businesses or developers.

“We have a strong, healthy, attractive downtown, and our city has worked very hard on that,” he said. “We have long-standing corporations like Community Care, Corhart and J.F. Allen, and those are things we can build on. We have West Virginia Wesleyan College and St. Joseph’s Hospital — two anchors at the ends of Main Street on each side – and then, of course, we are very safe; we essentially don’t have a crime rate, which is excellent for a community of our size, and it’s extremely walkable, it’s flat, and we have sidewalks.”

Skinner said it is also difficult to invite further development with Buckhannon’s current population.

“Some of the property owners that own our flattened, developable land are not community-oriented, and they’re not development-oriented, so that’s the challenge, and we face it every day,” Skinner said. “We have a small geographic footprint, and right now, our population is 6,100 people, and that’s not enough.”

“We need 10,000 people to shake a stick at true economic development, so we need to be mindful of legislation that encourages annexation,” he said.

Skinner said he’s aware annexation may not be a popular idea for people who don’t live in the city limits.

“I know not everybody in here lives in city limits – some of you live pretty close to it – but that’s what it’s going to take, and unfortunately, they look at the population of the urban area,” Skinner said. “The 6,000 people we have, that’s what matters. It doesn’t matter that Upshur County has 25,000 people or that our region has 200,000 people – it matters the city has 6,000 people, and that’s just not enough.”

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