Business is boomin' in Belmont County. That was one businessman's reaction to the feverish activity in the county over the oil/gas drilling prospects that have had landowners scurrying to latch onto leases that will provide them the greatest financial return.
Testament to the booming claim is borne out by satellite business developments - like the occupancy rate at the seven major hotel/motels in the St. Clairsville area hitting a near record of 93 percent over the past three months.
Although he had nothing to substantiate whether that high occupancy figure was a record, William Goff, manager of America's Best Value Inn just east of St. Clairsville, who compiled the statistics for the three-month period, said the 93 percent figure, "is very good. It's well above average but I don't have the figures to say it is a record."
According to statistics compiled by Goff for the months of July, August and September, there were a total 60,444 rooms available at the seven larger inns and the total number sold for that period was 56,153 or 93 percent.
"This is real unusual for the month of September," Goff noted, since summer vacations are ending with students having to go back to school. For that reason he said "Tourist activity is usually down in September with an occupancy rate of 60 or 65 percent. So the 93 figure is really exceptional in this case."
For example, the revenue produced from sale of the 56,153 rooms during that three-month period would amount to $3,649,945 with a charge of $65 per room. At the rate of $50 per room, the revenue to be produced would amount to $2,807,650.
The three-month occupancy rate translates into bigger financial gains not only for the hotel/motels but also for restaurants, since most of the visitors or tourists must dine out, and also utilize the retail outlets throughout the county.
Although tourists passing through Belmont County still account for much of the hotel/motel business, the influx of workers associated with the Marcellus and Utica Shale well drilling projects is responsible for more and more of the business, particularly during September when there are fewer travelers.
Goff noted that most of the oil/gas and construction workers come in groups, "anywhere from three to eight or 10 days and some stay for weeks." One particular group stood out in his mind. "There was a group of 25 out of Texas. They stayed here for six weeks. Then they left and went to Kansas."
The future continues to look bright. "October is starting out pretty good," Goff exclaimed. For the first five days of this month the occupancy rate was already at the 93 percent mark.
For his survey, Goff included the following: Americas Best Value Inn, Red Roof Inn, Days Inn, Hampton Inn, Super 8, Holiday Inn and Fairfield Inn. Not included were the smaller facilities Econo Lodge, Twin Pines, Arrowhead, Hillside, Relax, Sunset or any other bed and breakfast.
An $800,000 infusion into the revenue put together for construction of a sewage disposal system in Neffs should pave the way for the project to be up for bid and under construction before the end of this year.
A.C. Wiethe of the Belomar Regional Council has informed the Belmont County commissioners that a Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $600,000 and a Revolving Loan Fund grant in the amount of $200,000 have been approved for the $3,588,900 project.
Previously the project had been approved for a $400,000 grant and $631,000 loan from state Issue 2 fund, a $400,000 STAG (State and Tribal Assistance Grant) and $600,000 from the county commissioners.
At last week's meeting, commission President Matt Coffland told Mary Jackson of Neffs that "we have to have all easements in place before the project is ready to go out for bid." He anticipated this would take only a short time and the project would be ready for bid in the near future.
The project calls for the installation of 21,600 feet of gravity sewer pipe, 480 feet of force main sewer, 222 service taps and one lift station.
When it was announced that the hhgregg appliance and electronics firm would be moving into the Ohio Valley Mall complex, it was indicated the store would occupy the entire 27,000 square foot space that had previously been the home of the TJMaxx store.
Not so. The huge renovation project currently under way at the site likewise indicates that but there will be an approximately 10,000 square-foot space situated between the new store and the CVS Pharmacy that occupies the other half of the brick structure located on the mall perimeter. Mall manager George Diab said at the present time there are no plans for that space.
But there are plans for some immediate changes inside the main mall center. The Velocity sporting apparel store is displaying huge signs for a moving sale. "They are not moving out of the mall," Diab noted. He said they are being relocated into the space that was vacated by the Foot Locker store.
He said there are also plans for a business to occupy the space near the mall's main court that will be vacated by Velocity. He declined to identify the store, which is planning to expand its retail operations.
Patrons of the St. Clairsville Post Office were being treated to cookies and punch on Monday to commemorate the final day of Debbie Ruffner's 13 years as postmaster and a total of 31 years as an employee of the U.S. Postal Service - 23 of them in the role of a postmaster.
While work has taken her to Bellaire, Cadiz and St. Clairsville, her heart has always been in Bridgeport, where she also served as postmaster for three years. "I'm a full-fledged old Bulldog," she chuckled.
After her graduation from Bridgeport High School in 1972, she spotted a newspaper ad for a postmaster job, "so I took the Civil Service test and passed it. I was working in Fisher's Big Wheel then and the post office job looked like more money, so I took it." She hasn't regretted that decision.
She plans to stay busy in her retirement and is eyeing some kind of community work. "I hope to get with the Habitat for Humanity and maybe even one of the county committees." But what she'd like most of all is "I hope to work for some golf course and then get free green fees."
Martins Ferry Postmaster Bill Bellville has taken over as officer in charge of the St. Clairsville office.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.