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Making Wheeling a Pilot Project

Attempting to compete with big cities would have been a fool’s errand for those attempting to rebuild Wheeling. With a few exceptions — a very notable one being that Oglebay Park is both bigger and better than New York’s Central Park — the Friendly City just can’t compete in the big leagues.

City officials for the past few years have been attempting to install some of the amenities they believe young professionals want, with some success. For example, we have a dog park and more of the small shops that seem to be attractions in some cities. For years, we’ve had a nice system of walking/biking trails.

As far as going whole hog to attract the big-city crowd, we just can’t do it, as I’ve noted previously. We don’t have the money or the population.

Last week, Wheeling City Council members took a first step toward a different approach in bringing more people to the city. They agreed to look into a “worker feasibility study” with the U.S. Economic Development Administration. It would determine what our community needs to attract a “remote workforce.”

As Mayor Glenn Elliott explained it, the COVID-19 epidemic has prompted many companies to rethink whether they need offices in urban areas. Perhaps they can allow employees to work from home.

Elliott believes “this is a terrific opportunity to market our small-city livability and low cost of living.”

Hmmm. I happen to agree that our area — not just the city of Wheeling but our extended community — shouldn’t even try to compete with urban economies. We do need to play to our strengths, among them some noted by the mayor.

But while many businesses have allowed some workers to do some work from home, there are questions about how remotely they can function. For example, how many big-tech firms in Silicon Valley want employees more than a commute away from their offices?

We need to be able to get at least some primary workplaces, as hubs from which people can work at home, to locate here.

We also need to be able to tell big-city executives we offer small-town living and some urban amenities — without population center woes. That means ensuring people don’t get mugged on our trails or in our downtown, cracking down on urban decay and keeping taxes low, among other things.

What’s intriguing about the new approach and a link with the EDA is the possibility of setting Wheeling up as a model small-town employment pilot project, with a significant amount of federal funding. It’s worth a try.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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