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Billion-dollar boost: Region VII’s strategic investments help transform central West Virginia

BUCKHANNON — Region VII has helped secure $1.5 billion in public funds for community economic development projects in West Virginia.

Shane Whitehair, Executive Director of the Region VII Planning and Development Council, attended a recent Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur meeting to discuss ongoing projects and explain how the organization helps local governments.

“We were created by legislation back in 1971, so we’ve been in existence for over 50 years,” Whitehair said. “The primary function and responsibility that we have is to basically provide technical assistance, project development and project management services for the local governments in our regions. Region VII consists of seven counties, Upshur being right in the middle of our region, but it’s Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Randolph, Tucker and Upshur, so we represent seven counties’ populations — very rural, maybe 115,000 people.”

Region VII is made up of 54 members in local governance and the private sector from all seven counties.

“The majority of the work that we do is community and economic development, infrastructure development — water, sewer, broadband, stormwater, transportation, those types of projects that we work on for our communities to develop within their neighborhoods,” Whitehair said. “We have a full-time staff, including myself, we have one consultant, and we’re managing roughly $400 million for the projects in our seven counties — and it’s growing every single day.”

Region VII is currently tackling 75 to 80 projects in all seven counties.

“Typically, we are contacted by our local governments,” Whitehair said. “We might have one of the county commissioners or a municipality in our region say, ‘Hey, we have this issue in our community, what can you do to help us? Are there any grants out there for us to access?’ We have the experience and expertise to start helping them develop their project, which involves getting them in a position to be eligible to pursue grant opportunities, it’s getting them in a position to have the necessary professionals surrounding them to develop and implement their projects, and then the big thing is trying to find money to pay for it.”

Whitehair said he started working for Region VII in 2000, and one of the first projects he worked on was for AF Wendling’s Food Service to move and expand.

“Region VII applied for an Appalachian Regional Commission grant for the economic development authority for AF Wendling’s at the time,” Whitehair said. “They were looking at expanding and moving their distribution center, and the development authority had purchased the buildings at the plaza. After years of planning and organizing, they were able to move out there, and then the rest is history.”

Region VII also helped the Upshur County Development Authority obtain about $2.5 million in grant funding to construct the Innovation Center, which is located on Main Street.

“I think we’ve worked with every single public service district in the county, as well as the city, expanding and improving the infrastructure systems in Upshur County — and that continues today,” Whitehair said. We were also involved with the expansion of the industrial park behind Weyerhaeuser. We did some applications to get some funding for extending water and sewer services to develop more sites up there.”

Whitehair also gave a small update on the ongoing Corridor H project.

“What I know is the Kerens to Parsons section is supposed to be open to traffic by August of 2025,” Whitehair said. “Obviously, the big one is Parsons to Davis — that’s the big section, and the Department of Highways has been requested by the federal transportation to review an alternate route. There are two routes that are being reviewed as we speak, before they give their stamp of approval to let them go ahead and design the route they’re going to stick with, so that’s holding things up in regard to the Parsons to Davis timeframe. I wouldn’t guess as to when that would be done.”

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