Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, Follansbee Chamber of Commerce Eye Partnership

The Follansbee Chamber of Commerce and Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle are poised to form a partnership aimed at drawing new businesses to the city.

Chamber members on Tuesday met with BDC Executive Director Pat Ford and other leaders of the economic development group to discuss a proposed “good neighbor agreement” involving the former Follansbee Steel site it purchased last fall for more than $1.3 million.

Ford said the agreement isn’t required for a grant sought for an environmental cleanup of the site, but helps to show community involvement or support for the effort.

The two-page document calls for the BDC to keep the chamber informed of all construction activity there and for the BDC and the chamber to work together to investigate funding opportunities for the property.

Chamber President Tony Paesano said the chamber’s board of directors will review the agreement, but he’s optimistic it will be adopted at the chamber’s April 18 meeting.

Marvin Six, assistant director of the BDC, said it appears cleanup efforts at the Follansbee Steel site won’t be extensive but it normally takes about 18 months to pursue such an effort, including the wait period for a grant application.

Ford said the BDC has been awarded about $7 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and must undergo periodic audits to ensure appropriate use of those funds.

He said such cleanups make property more attractive to businesses, adding the Follansbee Steel site has several other strong selling points. They include close proximity to W.Va. 2 and U.S. 22, the Ohio River and the Norfolk-Southern Railroad and access to utilities.

Ford showed chamber members a tentative master plan dividing the 22-acre site into sections of various sizes. The plan is seen as a possible layout for the land’s use only.

He said the site is being eyed for industries involved in metal-related services, such as those that cut or coat steel coils; energy, including oil and gas; and transportation logistics, such as distribution centers.

Ford said the site could be occupied first by temporary tenants. But he said the former Wheeling Corrugating plant in Beech Bottom has benefited from several such businesses, which have contributed to the costs of a new roof, sewer line extension and cranes used for operations there.

Paesano said too many young adults have left the area to find jobs, and an effort must be made to attract diverse businesses to establish a more stable economy.