Mayor’s Economic Advisory Panel Holds First Meeting
WHEELING — Members of the city of Wheeling’s newly resurrected Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Economic and Industrial Development met for the first time Thursday to establish bylaws and look ahead to goals for next year.
This summer, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott initiated action to bring this advisory commission back to life after decades of inactivity.
“When the city charter was amended and revised in early 1990s, it was the first time the mayor was elected citywide, and they thought that it was important for the mayor to have a conduit to the business community,” Elliott said, noting that former Mayor Jack Lipphardt was in office at that time.
The commission was active for a number of years after it was first established, but has not been used since the late 1990s. The panel consisted of the mayor as chairman, a handful of council members and the city manager and seven representatives of the local business community. Elliott indicated that after winning re-election this summer in a close race, he saw the reestablishment of this advisory commission as a good way to improve communication between the city and local business leaders, particularly in situations where Wheeling is taking steps toward furthering economic development.
“We want a lot of the same things in this community,” Elliott said. “We want to see our community grow again, we want to see our downtown be vibrant again. We want to stop exporting our best and brightest kids each year. We all want the same things at the end of the day, but we don’t always figure out how to get there.”
Named to the 11-member advisory commission earlier this year were city leaders who are members of the Development Committee of Wheeling City Council, including the mayor, Councilmen Ty Thorngate and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, along with City Manager Robert Herron.
Seven local business leaders who agreed to serve on the commission include Erikka Storch, president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce and member of the W.Va. House of Delegates; Craig O’Leary of RED (Regional Economic Development Partnership); Missy Ashmore of Kennen & Kennen Realtors; Kayleen Clough of the Fitzsimmons Foundation; Kevin Duffin of Belmont Carson Petroleum, owner of the Flatiron Building; Barry Allen of the Ziegenfelder Company; and David H. McKinley of McKinley-Carter Wealth Management.
The mayor noted that the purpose for this initial meeting was to do some “housekeeping” measures ahead of the body’s first sustentative meeting in January.
The mayor will serve as chairman, while Duffin accepted a nomination as vice chairman. The commission approved its bylaws, and each member outlined their goals for the panel.
“I can’t run for mayor again, so this is not a political move for me,” Elliott noted.
“It’s not a political stunt. I want it to be about a real forum where we talk about real ideas.”
Elliott said he would like the members to look at any city policies and ordinances that may create a “disincentive of economic activity in any way, shape or form,” be it fees, city codes or other practices that may need to be re-examined.
“The city came into ownership of significant pieces of real estate this year,” the mayor noted, targeting the acquisition of the former Ohio Valley Medical Center campus and the former warehouse property at 19th and Jacob streets. “Our goal is not to maintain ownership for long.”
Elliott said the panel will share ideas for marketing these properties to the private sector. He added that the commission needs to brainstorm ideas about better ways to use its waterfront — including the Ohio River and Wheeling Creek, and they need to discuss housing availability and policies, as well.
The mayor said the panel’s goal should be to create not a plan but a vision for the future.
“I’ve been a big believer of looking back to the past to see how we can try to get better in the future,” Thorngate said. ” Getting the business community more involved in decision making is a step in the right direction, and actually more importantly, so is just brainstorming on how we can make the city a better place.”
“I want to make the city a better place, not just for our generation, but I have kids, and I want to make it better for them and to make sure we have opportunities for generations to come,” she said.
“Wheeling has always been really, really supportive of our business,” Allen said, noting that Ziegenfelder’s suffered a devastating fire in recent years, but has rebounded. The business works with the city, employs hundreds of people, gives “second chances” to people in the community who need work and is making a significant investment in the future of their company’s footing in the city.
“I’m looking forward to how I can learn from other businesses and how they can learn from us. I’m most concerned with about what we as a collected group of individual businesses can do together from a resource standpoint to put back into our community and help the people in our community that aren’t as fortunate as we are.”
Teamwork is a key to success, O’Leary added.
“We’re really trying to create a team,” he said. “Just about every project that we’ve done, we’ve had significant partners in the community.”
Most importantly, the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Economic and Industrial Development is expected to provide input on major city ventures before they take place instead of afterwards. Many members applauded this position, including Storch, who indicated that the phones at the chamber sometimes “blow up” after the city takes action on certain measures.
“Changing a city is like steering an ocean liner,” the mayor said. “It’s a really slow process. You can’t just change it on a dime. And a lot of change happens organically and incrementally, but without some overarching vision, it’s really hard to figure out where you’re going to end up.”