Less than a decade ago, the Dallas Pike exit from Interstate 70 in Ohio County was not a particularly busy spot. Except for tractor-trailer drivers getting off to go to the truck stop and motorists taking the ramp to get something to eat, refill their cars or spend the night, not many people felt the need to leave the highway there.
What a difference a few years - and four visionaries - makes! Now the exit and a newer interchange just west on I-70 are busy, as thousands of people each day visit the giant retail development that is The Highlands.
On Wednesday, hundreds of local people gathered at the annual Light of the Valley Award luncheon sponsored by the Wheeling YMCA. The event is held each year to recognize leaders who, in many ways, have made our valley a better place to live, work and raise children.
Honorees this year were Ohio County Commissioners Tim McCormick and Randy Wharton, Circuit Judge David Sims and county Administrator Greg Stewart. They were recognized collectively as "The Highlands Development Team."
When The Highlands was envisioned by Sims (who served as a commissioner until just a few weeks ago), Wharton, McCormick and Stewart, there were many who worried the project would be a waste of taxpayers' money. Many others simply did not believe the development could become a reality.
But, with about $50 million in state aid, The Highlands has become a major contributor to the economy of the Ohio Valley and the state of West Virginia. As McCormick noted Wednesday, businesses at The Highlands have about 3,200 people on their payrolls. It also has become a major taxpayer both locally and at the state level.
Development of The Highlands is far from over, as McCormick stressed. Much more is to come.
Even as the area stands now, however, it represents a major accomplishment in many ways, chief among them economic development. Frankly, without The Highlands, this area's unemployment level would be disastrously high.
Projects such as The Highlands require hard work and expertise from many people, of course. But as was emphasized at the Light of the Valley Award luncheon, commissioners and the county administrator had the idea for the development and persisted through good times and bad to make The Highlands happen.
Wharton, Stewart, Sims and McCormick - and their families, for putting up with the hard work the four men put in on the project - have made our area a much better place. Congratulations to them on an honor well deserved.