Weirton, Steubenville Officials: Population Loss Tied to Industry

File Photo by John McCabe The former Weirton Steel basic oxygen plant is demolished March 9. Officials attribute continuing loss of population to the decline in the area’s industrial base.

STEUBENVILLE — A recent report from USA Today showed five metropolitan statistical areas at least partially located in West Virginia to be among the worst in the country for declining population.

The Weirton-Steubenville MSA ranked sixth on the list, with a decline of 4.9 percent since 2010. The mayors of both cities weighed in Friday, both attributing the shrinking population to the decline of industry in the area. However, both men were hopeful that recent and upcoming developments in the industrial sector could see the trend slowed, stopped or even reversed.

Steubenville Mayor Jerry Barilla said he has lived in the area his entire life and that he’s seen firsthand the decline of industry and how it’s affected the region.

“I’ve been here since the heyday of the mills running full force, and when you lose the heavy industry the Ohio Valley had, people need to survive and making a living,” Barilla said. “If the work isn’t here, they move elsewhere, and nothing is coming in to replace all that industry that was so lucrative to the workforce — yet.”

Weirton Mayor Harold Miller said he retired from the Weirton Steel mill in 2000, at which time he could already see the decline of the industry.

“Most of it’s attributable to the decline of the steel industry over the last however many years,” he said. “I retired from the mill in 2000, and it was beginning to decline then. … Our tri-state area has all been affected by the loss of industry in the steel industry.”

Barilla identified the proposed PTT Global Chemical America/Daelim Industrial Corp. ethane cracker facility as a potential engine of industry.

“I think we’re hopeful that the Dilles Bottom (cracking) plant … the Ohio Valley has a lot to offer. With its location, the access to the (Ohio) River, and the railways that go through here, businesses may look more favorably to relocate to the Ohio Valley, and hopefully that’s what we might look forward to. An increase in job opportunities and employment.”

Miller said Weirton hopes to target two demographics which city leaders hope they can better serve with the housing market. He identified the Frontier Group, who — in addition to demolition work — has been working on developing land in the area.

“We recognize that, and we’re addressing that with the development we’re working on now,” he said. “(Frontier) have purchased Brown’s Island, and properties in the north end of Weirton, and where the old BOP shop was. Their intention is to develop that — they already have an idea of the layout of small manufacturing they want to bring.”

“They’re also involved in housing,” he added. “It’s hard to find a ranch home in Weirton that stays on the market more than 24 hours. Older people like myself, who maybe have (problems with) knees and hips … are looking for these ranch or platform homes … where everything’s on the main floor. And I think that’s really going to take off.”

“At the same time, these millenials are coming out of school, looking for work, and can’t afford to buy a house, so they’re looking for these apartments, and that’s what we hope to offer on Park Drive, is an area where a retail and housing will be a combination.”

Miller feels Weirton is an attractive and safe city, and he hears of many people working in the Pittsburgh area who reside near the Weirton area due to its cheaper cost of living.

“We have some amenities here. I hear every day, the young people who work in Robinson who want to live here … because the cost of the home was half of what it was in Pennsylvania, and the property tax is a third of what it was in Pennsylvania,” he said. “The 20-minute drive to Robinson is not an issue.”

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