WVU plan will help Weirton

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Unlike several other local communities, Weirton has managed to hold on to a substantial segment of the steel industry that once was the foundation of the Ohio Valley’s economy. The ArcelorMittal mill in Weirton still provides nearly 1,000 jobs.

But that is a small fraction of the workforce that once worked at the site – and like other communities, Weirton is struggling to revitalize itself.

On Monday, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee pledged to place WVU’s substantial muscle behind efforts to jump-start Weirton’s economy. During his annual State of the University address, Gee announced a “community engagement project” with Weirton.

University experts will work with community leaders to understand Weirton’s economic and sociological needs to help the city rebound from the steel industry’s collapse, Gee explained.

He hinted that Weirton could serve as a template for communities in similar situations. For that matter, he emphasized, “West Virginia can be a model for communities and individuals across this country, of how to be resilient, determined and successful.”

Gee has set out quite a task for WVU. Both Weirton and the surrounding area have suffered badly from the steel industry’s near-disappearance. In 1980, when the mills still were running, the city’s population was 24,728. It has shrunk to about 19,362, according to the Census Bureau.

Even more striking is the decline in the wider Steubenville-Weirton Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area. It had a population of 163,099 in 1980. That plunged to 121,336 by last year.

Only determined, often fruitful, work by local leaders has prevented an even steeper decline. Some may wonder what WVU can add to those efforts.

Plenty. Unlike some “ivory tower” universities, WVU has a tradition of working with Mountain State residents on everything from 4-H clubs to economic development. The university has plenty of roll-up-your-sleeves, practical help to offer.

Weirton is not alone in Gee’s sights. He has plans to provide assistance to other struggling communities, literally in every corner of the state. He has an ambitious vision of how WVU can serve our state.

Will WVU be an economic savior for Weirton? Absolutely not. Revitalizing the area’s economy will require more of the determination already demonstrated by local leaders – and much more.

But make no mistake about it: Gee’s plan is to provide real, substantial help in the process.

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