West Virginia University President Gordon Gee Seeks to Make West Virginia ‘Cool’
WVU president makes stop in Friendly City
WHEELING — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee wants the state to become a “cool” and “hip” place attractive to young people, and he thinks Wheeling can lead the way.
Gee made stops in the Northern Panhandle on Wednesday, visiting the Ziegenfelder Company in Wheeling, Bethany College and Eagle Manufacturing in Wellsburg.
Along the way there was also a pause for lunch at Later Alligator in Centre Market, where he participated in a discussion with Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott and Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday; Superintendent Kim Miller and Human Resources Director Susan Nolte from Ohio County Schools; Ohio County Commissioner Orphy Klempa and attorney William Wilmoth.
Also present were WVU Student Body President Blake Humphrey and 2017 WVU Foundation Scholars Adam Craig and Miriam Demasi — all graduates of Wheeling Park High School.
Gee told those present the state has failed when it comes to retaining the best and brightest young people in the state.
“We have to make West Virginia cool and hip, and a place young people don’t want to leave,” he said. “The talent drain is killing us. We have to get this turned around.”
Gee termed Wheeling “big enough” to have people and resources available for change, but “small enough” to find solutions to problems in larger areas.
Elliott said Wheeling has the potential to be the “coolest and hippest” place in the state.
“We have great architecture here, and we know it’s in decline,” he said. “But our goal is to save what we have, and make the city vibrant. What I’ve been reading about millenials is they like to pick where they want to live first, then find a job. We just need to improve upon what Wheeling is missing.”
Elliott believes West Virginians want to stay in the Mountain State.
“Our issue isn’t people trying to flee — it’s about the state making it necessary because we haven’t done the right things,” he said.
Scatterday said Wheeling should position itself to be a community that provides needed solutions to individuals and businesses living elsewhere. She asked Gee if the city could work with WVU to set up research and idea centers in Wheeling to find these solutions, and Gee said this was a possibility that could be explored.
As for the college students present, they will need jobs and opportunities here to keep them in West Virginia. But it’s likely their interests will take them elsewhere.
Craig plans to major in international studies at WVU.
“Wheeling isn’t internationally focused — and I don’t really expect that out of Wheeling,” he said. “But I do love this town.”
Demasi while in high school developed a building material made from waste paper, fly ash and lime. She plans to major in environmental sustainability studies at WVU.
“I think the entire conversation of our communities would have to change,” she said of the potential for her to find a job in her field in West Virginia.
Humphrey is an economics and political science senior who has plans to attend WVU School of Law and remain in the Mountain State. But he said job opportunities are key to keeping young people in West Virginia.