County’s Industrial Park Buzzing With Development Activity

Belmont County’s Fox Commerce Park has been transformed into a beehive of business and industrial activity, and there is strong indication there will be more of the same coming in the not too distant future.

The newest addition in the industrial park – Bill’s Towing – began operations out of a huge garage at the beginning of this year and already business has picked up so fast that an expansion project has been started. Earth-moving operations have been started on acreage to the south of the 9,024-square-foot garage.

“Right now it is going to be used to store trucks,” owner Bill Coulson explained. He noted that trucks are coming in for repairs at such a rapid pace, more space is needed to park the vehicles until repairs can be made. He said the trucks are coming in from as far away as Zanesville.

When I visited his new building last week, Coulson’s son, Chad, was doing some cleanup work. Noticing that there were four big trucks parked inside the facility, I commented that business must be good. “You should have been here a little while ago,” Chad exclaimed, “We had 12 of those trucks in here at one time.”

For the time being, Coulson said the additional acreage to the south of his garage will be used for parking trucks. However, he added, “maybe sometime in the future we’ll build another building or put an addition on the building that’s there.” His business site encompasses 5 acres.

Before Coulson decided to build a bigger garage in the industrial park to handle the truck work anticipated from the oil and gas business developing in the county, he had just five employees stationed at his three other places in Bridgeport, Bellaire and St. Clairsville. Now he has 17 employees and needs more of them. “I’m looking for a couple of mechanics right away,” he exclaimed.

Coulson’s garage is located almost directly across the road from where heavy equipment is grinding up the terrain preparing a site for the construction of an office building for Chesapeake Energy. Beaver Excavating of Canton is involved in that work.

Originally, the Beaver firm had confined its excavating operations to the 16-acre site immediately south of the FedEx terminal. Within the past week the company moved its heavy equipment to the 12-acre site at the northern end of the industrial park where the sod was removed in preparation for further excavation work.

It is anticipated two administration buildings will be constructed on the site nearest I-70 and located opposite the Fed Ex terminal. The buildings will be situated near the picturesque lake that is part of the Fox Commerce Park.

Industrial activity is also concentrated at the southern end of FCP. In July 2010 John Bettem appeared before the Belmont County commissioners to reveal his intention of constructing a mining supply business on a 5-acre site that borders county road 84. Work on the project was started almost immediately but then for more than a year the project came to a halt.

Last month construction of the Underground Service and Supply facility was resumed and is moving ahead full steam. Bettem told the commission and Development Department/CIC officials his plans included construction of an 8,000-square-foot building with an initial employment between 7 and 10 and the operations would be on a 24-hour basis.

At the same time that Bettem revealed his plans, Heath Smith of St. Clairsville offered his idea for establishing a propane gas operation in the industrial park. Starting almost from scratch, Smith gained new customers, built an office building and informed me last week that in the year he has been there, “my business has doubled.”

At the present time there are 13 empty lots in the Fox Commerce Park but as Sue Douglass, director of the Belmont County Department of Development/Community Improvement Corp. puts it, “they are not necessarily available.” That is because within the next two weeks Douglass is scheduled to meet with the county commissioners regarding the possible sale of four park lots.

There is an active proposal being developed which, Douglass said, for the time being would have to remain “confidential.”

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After a lengthy meeting with Ohio Department of Transportation officials regarding the bidding documents for the former jail residence renovation project, the Belmont County commissioners awarded the contract to the low bidder, Waller Corp. of Washington, Pa., and also agreed to seek bids for another historical renovation project.

At its meeting a week earlier the commission raised questions about the failure of the state and federal government to include the commission’s bidding criteria in the bid specifications for the residence renovation project. “There is a misunderstanding between ODOT, the federal government and Belmont County about this project,” Commissioner Matt Coffland declared.

Before awarding the contract for the residence project and also approving the advertisement for bids for improvements to the Brick Tavern House on the campus of Ohio University Eastern, the commission requested the meeting with ODOT to clarify the criteria and bidding process.

Two officials of ODOT informed the board that certain aspects of the local criteria for project bids cannot be included in bid specifications if there is federal money involved in the project. Even though the $679,000 for the jail residence project came in a grant from ODOT, the grant involves funds that come from the federal government.

As a result, the commission then awarded the $720,000 contract to the Waller firm which submitted the lowest and best bid for the project which has been on the drawing boards for about seven years. The Belmont County Tourism Council has provided the $150,000 matching funds for the grant.

And with the clarification made by ODOT the commissioners also approved advertising for bids for the Brick Tavern, which includes repairing the roof and the roof drainage system. The Brick Tavern is listed on the National Historic Register and OUE has obtained an ODOT grant similar to the one obtained by the county for the jail residence to finance the project. The county is acting as the local project administrator for OUE.

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Although a new operations manager has been employed at the Belmont Soil & Water Conservation District office in St. Clairsville, one vacancy – that of coordinator of the Captina Creek Watershed – still exist.

Katie Rauch of Little Hocking, but most recently of Texas A & M University, has taken over the operations manager position which has been vacant for several months. She has made her new home in St. Clairsville.

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My hopes for an end to the ribbing and lighthearted abuse over my wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates jacket all winter did not end with the opening game of the baseball season.

But there were some bright spots in that opening game against the Phillies. While the hitting fell far short, the defense sparkled and so did the pitching. But the 2011 National League champion Phillies had just a wee bit more sparkle, or perhaps more luck would be a better way to put it.

As a Pirates fan for more than a half century, I have to say that opening game showed promise that things might be better for the team this year.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at: