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Redevelopment Chief Calls for More Diversification

Mingo County needs to diversify its economy and at the same time continue to work with the coal industry, according to Leasha Johnson, executive director of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, or MCRA.

She was the featured speaker Thursday at the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon, which was held at Starter's Restaurant.

Johnson said the coal industry took a hit during the Obama administration, but recently the coal business has picked up. However, the region still needs to diversify and work to attract new businesses and continue the growth in the tourism industry.

Johnson said the MCRA has been awarded several grants for projects it has been working on.

The USDA Rural Business Development office awarded a grant of $50,600 to conduct a feasibility study for the Wood Products Industrial Park with the goals of increasing its marketability and targeting potential investors and manufacturers to the site. The study was completed in July 2018 and includes an in-depth market analysis of the wood products industry. The wood park is located at the 22 Mine Industrial Park near Holden off of U.S. 119.

Johnson is excited about the Mingo County Air Transportation Park and the continued growth of that project. The MCRA was awarded a $1.6 million grant by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to extend water and sewer treatment facilities to the new airport located near Varney, W.Va. She said completion of the facility will position the region for diversification opportunities on the 500 acres of developable land adjacent to the airport.

The MCRA also has partnered with Marshall University and the Robert C. Byrd Institute, funded by a $1.5 million ARC POWER grant. This puts business outreach specialists in the state's 20 southernmost coal mining counties and offers technical assistance to coal supply chain businesses that were drastically impacted by the decline in the coal industry.

Johnson's organization has worked closely with the Hatfield-McCoy Trails Authority, which received a $1.3 million grant along with Southern W.Va. Community and Technical College and Natural Capital Investment Fund for assistance in growing small businesses. The initiative is a comprehensive program to assist entrepreneurs in the southern part of the state near the trails communities by providing business advisory services and access to capital to help them grow.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded the MCRA an Assistance to Coal Communities (ACC) grant in the amount of $1.4 million for extension of public water to the Twisted Gun Gap Development area. This infrastructure project will allow continued economic development geared toward tourism and recreation that capitalize on existing assets such as the Twisted Gun Gold Course, the ATV trails and the Tug and Big Sandy rivers.

Johnson said the MCRA is in the process of purchasing an access road to the Twin Branch Drag Strip in hopes to get that project going in the spring of 2019. The interest has been high from drag racing enthusiasts all across the eastern part of the United States.

Johnson said the Redevelopment Authority will continue to strive to help with these and other projects that will help provide jobs and stimulate the economy in Mingo County.

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