Cabela’s Project Lesson in Success

Ohio Valley residents have every reason to desire more economic development “folly” like what is being celebrated this week. State officials should view it as a template for success in economic development.

Tuesday will mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of Cabela’s in Ohio County. It was the foundation for what has become The Highlands gigantic retail center adjacent to Interstate 70.

Stores, restaurants and other attractions at The Highlands have, as a group, become one of the region’s key employers. In a variety of ways ranging from paychecks to taxes, The Highlands is a major contributor to the local economy. Without it, there is no doubt the recession that began in 2008 would have affected the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio much more severely.

Yet at one time, after Ohio County commissioners bought 471 acres of then-vacant land at the site, the idea of development there was referred to by some as folly. Commissioners Tim McCormick and Randy Wharton, former commissioner and now Circuit Judge David Sims, and county Administrator Greg Stewart clearly were more visionary than their critics.

So were other local and state officials, led by then-Gov. Bob Wise, who put in place tax incentives and other major assistance to make the proposal a reality. As detailed in our stories about the project in today’s newspaper, bringing Cabela’s here was a team effort requiring vision, creativity and not a little courage.

Obviously, none of it would have been possible without brothers Jim Cabela and the late Richard Cabela, who founded what now is the world’s top outfitter. Their faith in Ohio County paid off handsomely for the company and our area.

Bringing Cabela’s here, then continuing to develop The Highlands, has been an extremely complex, demanding initiative. Again, however, it is a textbook case of how local and state government can partner with private enterprise to write an enormous success story. What happened here stands in contrast to all too many economic development initiatives – and, as such, holds lessons for those involved in future attempts to improve local economies.