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Economic Setbacks, But Also Progress

Unfortunately, we are used to bad economic news in West Virginia.

Just this week, Monongalia County Resources announced the pending shutdown of an underground coal mine and prep plant near Blacksville.  180 employees will lose their jobs.

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical plant in Morgantown, formerly owned by Mylan and now owned by Viatris, is closing permanently next month.  Nearly 1,500 employees are being laid off.

These are gut punches for those employees and a serious blow to one of the more economically stable counties in West Virginia.

However, there is also some encouraging news.

DataRobot, a tech company that specializes in artificial intelligence, announced yesterday that it is opening a hub in Morgantown.  Initially, the company will hire 30 to 40 people, but the numbers could grow.

DataRobot CEO Dan Wright initially heard about the tech potential in West Virginia from John Chambers, the WVU graduate and former executive chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems who is investing time and money in the WVU business school.

Chambers’ pitch piqued Wright’s interest.

“He told me about West Virginia, and he spoke about it with a lot of passion,” Wright said on Talkline Wednesday.  “It was really about the people and the community.

He said on Talkline Wednesday that West Virginia leaders, including Governor Justice’s office, Auditor J.B. McCuskey, WVU President E. Gordon Gee and Sarah Biller, executive director of Vantage Ventures at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics at WVU, all worked on the deal.

Wright was impressed with the cooperation he received and the level of talent available coming out of WVU.  “Everything that John (Chambers) told me is real.  People here are amazing.  They are a great resource,” Wright said.

That is not the only good news.

Last week, NASA awarded a contract valued at $24 million to TMC Technologies in Fairmont to provide software engineering services to the space agency for its satellites.  TMC president and CEO Wade Linger said about 40 of his 125 employees will work on the project.

“There are a lot of talented, educated West Virginians that have left the state and gone other places and we reach out to them first,” Linger said on Talkline.  “When they realize that these kinds of jobs are available here, they move back to West Virginia, and they stay.”

ESC Brands, a North Carolina company that makes antiviral and antimicrobial products, announced last week it is expanding its operation to Bluefield, West Virginia.  The manufacturing facility could eventually employ several hundred people.

Once again, state and local government cooperation played a role in the company’s decision to move here. “The state has done tremendous work reaching out and trying to provide every level of service, every level of benefit and support the state can,” said Mercer County Development Authority executive director John O’Neal.

Meanwhile, the new Intuit/Alorica Prosperity Hub in Bluefield is up and running. That site is the brainchild of Brad Smith, the West Virginia native and executive chairman of Intuit’s Board of Directors.

Senior site director for Alorica John Miller told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that there are about 30 employees on site now, but another 200 working from home who will eventually move into the downtown location as the pandemic recedes.

The employees provide services for customers of Intuit’s many financial software products.

Job creation in West Virginia is on ongoing challenge.  However, these examples and others show that it can be done.


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