The Highlands, here in Ohio County, has been among the most productive economic development initiatives in the entire state during the past decade. It has been a winner for both the Ohio Valley and the state as a whole.
It has been obvious for the past few years that a new Interstate 70 interchange to provide access to the huge retail installation is needed. If development is to continue, as it shows every promise of doing, the second access point will be a necessity.
But Ohio County commissioners are aware neither the state nor the federal government has money available to build a new interchange. So, commissioners want to do it themselves, with a little assistance from the state.
A new interchange at the foot of Two-Mile Hill could be built for between $15 million and $20 million, it has been estimated. One method of raising that money would be to expand the TIF - for Tax Increment Financing - district at The Highlands.
About 300 acres at The Highlands already have been designated by the state as a TIF district. That gives the county a share of the state sales tax income from businesses in the area.
Expanding the district to 500 acres would give commissioners a share of sales taxes collected by businesses on the south side of I-70 at The Highlands. That should raise enough money to fund the new interchange, commissioners believe.
As commissioners have pointed out, the state's assistance in developing The Highlands and constructing one I-70 interchange has paid off for Charleston. The state has invested about $50 million in TIF assistance and, in return, has collected $67 million in sales taxes since The Highlands opened in 2004.
Granting commissioners' request for an expanded TIF district also will pay off for the state, beyond any reasonable doubt.
A bill to expand the district is progressing through the state Senate. It should be approved during the current session of the Legislature, so work on the new interchange can proceed. Again, The Highlands has been a boon to both the local economy and state government. Legislators should be eager to help Ohio County make the area even more successful in the future.