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Businesses Back City-County Investment Collaborations

WHEELING — In the eyes of the Wheeling Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Economic and Industrial Development, teamwork makes a bigger impact in fostering future community investments.

With tens of millions in federal dollars soon coming to local governments through the American Rescue Plan, members of the newly revived advisory commission brainstormed suggestions Tuesday about the best ways this money can be used to help stimulate the economy and even spark private-sector investments.

“I think the intent of the bill is to get money into the economy as quickly as possible,” Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said of the American Rescue Plan funds, which should be distributed to municipalities as soon as the U.S. Treasury Department issues guidelines as to how these funds can be used.

“The money has to be spent by 2024,” Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron noted. “That’s in the statute.”

A total of $29.51 million in federal stimulus money is slated for Wheeling as part of the plan. Ohio County will receive more than $8 million.

“I do think there is a very strong inclination for the city and county to work together on this and to identify some projects,” Elliott told Ohio County Commissioner Zach Abraham, who was recently added as a member of the advisory commission.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to find some shared priorities and to be smart about the way we get these funds into the community.

“We’ll have to see what the regulations say — if certain projects will qualify or not. But this could really unleash a lot of private investment.”

The American Rescue Plan funding is expected to be released in phases. Officials indicated the first allocation should be available early next month.

Advisory commission members noted that not only should the city partner with the local business community to propose ways to utilize this money, but it should also partner with the county on regional projects.

“Could you imagine if we figured out a way to coordinate those two efforts with almost $40 million to invest in the region?” asked advisory commission member David H. McKinley of McKinley-Carter Wealth Management. “Holy smokes.”

Abraham noted that there have been discussions about city-county joint work sessions, as well as sessions with other groups.

“How do we make the city of Wheeling and Ohio County more attractive to people like remote workers?” Abraham asked the panel to consider. “Another thing is, how do we market ourselves to people outside of this area? I’d like for us to work together, if we can, to figure out how we’re going to do that for the betterment of the city and for greater Ohio County, and for the region for that matter.”

Elliott said this is a great opportunity for the city and county to work together on regional investment strategy.

Abraham suggested they develop a regional marketing strategy, and a city-county partnership — along with input from other community entities — could pool resources and establish a small team or a lead person to “quarterback” that effort.

The advisory commission also discussed options for further broadband expansion and possibly setting up outdoor seating for restaurants. They also discussed some problems caused by parking minimums, zoning issues and other red tape that could deter or even prevent potential investors from opening a new business in the area.

“We want young people and investors to know that there is help around many of these problems,” said Kevin Duffin of Belmont Carson Petroleum, owner of the Flatiron Building and member of the advisory commission. He noted the city is business-friendly, and the Board of Zoning Appeals regularly hears requests for variances that help accommodate people willing to invest in their properties and in the city. “That welcome mat has to be out there for the city.”

The Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Economic and Industrial Development is expected to meet on at least a quarterly basis to share ideas on potential plans for the city’s future.

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