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Commerce secretary shares plans at Chamber of Commerce event in Elkins


The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS — Touching on increasing economic development, tourism and broadband service to underserved areas of the state, West Virginia’s secretary of the Department of Commerce shared his plans Tuesday during a luncheon in Elkins.

Woody Thrasher, left, West Virginia’s secretary of the Department of Commerce, speaks Tuesday with Samantha Smith, director of marketing and communications for the Department of Commerce, and Delegate William ‘Bill’ Hartman, D-Randolph, following a luncheon hosted by the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce.
(The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Henry-Vance)

“I’m convinced that we can dramatically change the face of business in West Virginia,” Woody Thrasher said during his remarks to the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, which hosted a lunch meeting at The Arts Center.

Thrasher was appointed to his position by Gov. Jim Justice in December. In that role, he oversees 10 state agencies, including the Development Office; divisions of energy, forestry, labor, natural resources and tourism; the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training; WorkForce West Virginia; the Office of Economic Opportunity; and Geological and Economic Survey.

He said each agency has talented leaders and staff who truly want to do what’s best for West Virginia.

One example he provided was the work of Chelsea Ruby, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Tourism. He said Ruby is working to unify West Virginia’s overall image and “brand,” both with current residents and people from outside the state.

“I think we have an image problem. … We’re not accurately perceived by the rest of the world,” he said. “You couldn’t find a better place to live.”

He said the Division of Tourism is revamping its website and will make other announcements later this fall, including plans for state park updates.

“I think our state parks are absolute diamonds in the rough,” he said.

Thrasher estimated the parks system could use about $40 million in work and updates. He said he doesn’t want to change each park’s individual appeal, but the work could help attract and retain more visitors.

He also touched on plans to increase forest management plans, noting approximately 2 million board feet of timber were harvested last year. He said trees grow at 12 times that rate, so he wants the Division of Forestry, to significantly ramp up its timber harvesting — potentially generating $24 million in sales next year.

Increased timber harvests will create new jobs and have a big impact on the economy, he said, particularly in the Randolph County area.

In addition to timber-related jobs, Thrasher said he forsees hundreds of new jobs in other industries as well in coming years.

He mentioned 600 jobs coming to the new Procter & Gamble Co. manufacturing facility near Martinsburg, which he toured in recent weeks and called “a beehive of activity.”

“I think that’s a home run, and I think it’s just going to get even better,” he said.

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he also said. “I think we’re going to see a dramatic increase in the number of jobs coming to West Virginia.”

Thrasher said “opportunities absolutely abound” throughout the state.

He said one problem he hopes to address is the need for broadband internet access in many small towns and rural areas of the state.

“We’re the least broadband served state in the union,” he said — even after receiving federal funding.

Thrasher said he plans to help create much better access, which he called “critical.”

“If you don’t have internet connectivity, you’re not going to have businesses coming in.”

He pointed to Wardensville, which has grown a great deal thanks to improved internet access.

“People want to live in small towns, if they can make a living,” he said.

Thrasher is a native of Harrison County and is currently the president of The Thrasher Group, an engineering and architecture firm that he started with his father in 1983. The company employs nearly 400 people and has offices in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Maryland. Thrasher’s company is now the largest engineering firm in the state, and one of the biggest in the Mid-Atlantic region, according to information from the governor’s office.

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