FAIRMONT, W.Va. — A record number of business professionals turned out for the fourth annual North Central West Virginia Business Summit Tuesday.
The summit, entitled “Bridges Without Boundaries,” was held at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont, with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto as the keynote speaker.
“I’ve had the opportunity over the past few years to start to look beyond the city of Pittsburgh and really toward our entire region, as Pittsburgh faced a change and transition of its economy,” Peduto said. “West Virginia and certainly some of our southern counties in Pennsylvania are now facing that same type.”
Because of that, Peduto said he sees an opportunity for the city of PIttsburgh and North Central West Virginia to work together.
“We have not only a chance to lessen negative impacts that come during the changing economies, but actually an opportunity to create a center for this entire country around technology and industry,” he said.
Peduto already has a history of working closely with the High Technology Foundation in Fairmont through President and CEO James Estep.
Now, he said, the city is looking for ways to expand upon that to work not only with the HTF but also with the region’s universities in creating fields of cloud technology and cyber security while also attracting new companies to the region.
“We have a Main Street, and it’s called Interstate 79. It connects us in a way that can help to bring industries along that corridor,” Peduto said. “Also, 20 miles up the road is West Virginia University, and we’re looking at as a partnership like Denver has with Boulder, understanding that their economy grows along that corridor. We should be thinking of ways in order to be able to see that type of growth along our interstate as well.”
The annual event is a collaborative effort of the Chambers of Commerce in Harrison, Marion and Preston counties and the Morgantown area.
“Every year, we sit down, and we talk about the emerging technologies in the region — not so much what’s important in Marion County or in Mon County but in the region as a whole,” said Tina Shaw, president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce.
Over 200 business professionals attended this year’s event, which included various panels on energy, road bonds and housing opportunities in the region. WVU Energy Institute Director Brian Anderson and Don Williams, district engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, were also among the regional experts who spoke during the summit.
“Housing is a big issue with all of us, along with the roads and infrastructure and the China deal,” Shaw said. “In West Virginia, there’s so much talk on this China deal and the cracker plants and what’s happening that we thought that would be something really good to talk about at the summit.”
Peduto, however, focused his keynote speech on resiliency, discussing Pittsburgh’s economic rebound over the last few decades.
“We didn’t have to rely upon steel in order to bring us back, but were able to plant seeds that then brought an entirely new economy,” he said. “We’re looking at the future and the challenges that it will bring for tomorrow and basing it around people. I think that the changes that West Virginia’s growing through, and southwestern Pennsylvania, really are reflective of what Pittsburgh went through in the last 30 years.”
That economic tranformation, Peduto said, was made possible by diversifying the city’s economy across multiple industries.
“We would’ve never done it had we just relied on government. We never would’ve done it if we’d just relied upon industry or the universities,” he said. “It was everyone coming together to be able to do it, and you have that here. It’s just really getting behind a strategy and seeing it through.”