Home Internet Plans for internet extension, other development shared in Brooke County | News, Sports, Jobs

Plans for internet extension, other development shared in Brooke County | News, Sports, Jobs

OFFERING AN UPDATE — Members of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce and guests received an update on current and planned development efforts Thursday from state Del. Jimmy Willis, R-Brooke, standing; and Brooke County Commissioner A.J. Thomas, seated left, as well as J.P. West, a representative of Glo Fiber, a business planning to extend fiberoptic internet connections to many in the county. — Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — State Del. Jimmy Willis, R-Brooke, said while growing up in Brooke County, he became accustomed to a bleak economic picture, with local steel mills that had once been a major force closing or dwindling in size.

But in a report Thursday to members of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce and guests, Willis said that view has changed.

“You can feel some excitement, some joy, coming back to this area,” said the state legislator, who was joined by Brooke County Commissioner A.J. Thomas and a representative of a business planning to extend fiber optic internet connections to 2,049 commercial and residential customers in the county.

Such plans were shared by J.P. West, senior leader of government affairs for Glo Fiber. Formerly Horizon TeleCom, the company was rebranded following its acquisition in April by Shentel.

Also known as the Shenandoah Telecommuncations Co., the 122-year-old Virginia-based business also offers streaming television and phone services.

West said the company normally utilizes existing aerial power and other utility lines to extend its connections, which will be 100 percent fiber optic and won’t involve a shared network, which often results in fluctuations in speed for internet access.

He said the company will offer affordable packages for speeds ranging from 300 megabits per second to 1 gigabit per second.

West said pending the acquisition of necessary permits, the company hopes to start working on connections late this year or early next year.

Thomas noted the state has contracted with Comcast to develop internet connections to unserved or underserved areas of the state using $1.2 billion awarded through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Thomas said before that, county commissioners in Brooke, Hancock and Ohio counties had planned to jointly seek millions of dollars for internet expansion through a state program.

“We’re very pleased Glo Fiber is committed to doing it on their own and we’re committed to working with them to make it happen,” he said.

Thomas said many local officials have promoted this region as a bedroom community for Pittsburgh and a key to attracting new residents is reliable internet service. He added it’s already been requested by current residents who work from home.

In addressing the group, Willis said in the last 38 months, West Virginia’s gross domestic product has risen to among the top 10 in the nation, “well above its surrounding states,” its cost of living is 21.99% lower than the national average; and 128,000 new jobs have been created.

He said he and other state legislators have been able to cut the state’s personal income tax by 21.25% and pending the state’s future economic picture, he hopes it can be eliminated entirely.

Willis said a number of new businesses have opened or are in the process of opening in Brooke and Hancock counties.

They include Pure Watercraft, a manufacturer of electric motor boats in Beech Bottom that’s expected to employ 100 to 110 workers; and Form Energy, producer of a 100-hour iron air battery, that has broken ground on former Weirton Steel property.

Willis said he’s learned 80% of about 500 people hired for the plant are West Virginians and that the average annual salary there is $63,000.

He said officials with Nucor Steel had been considering leaving West Virginia and its Mason County plant until leaders of the state Senate and House of Delegates and state Secretary of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael approached them, leading to a planned facility in northern Hancock County.

Willis said a business-friendly climate in the state has supported the development of other businesses, including Empire Diversified Energy in Follansbee, Heavy Iron Oilfield Services in Chester and a plethora of restaurants and retail businesses on Three Springs Drive.

“We have a long way to go. This story is a long way from being finished,” he said.

Willis was asked about the future of the Market Street Bridge, which was closed in December after inspectors found severely deteriorated support cables.

A few attendees noted the 119-year-old span’s historic significance, but Willis said the cost to restore the bridge must be weighed when considering its preservation.

Thomas noted in 2010, the bridge underwent about $17 million in repairs and improvements intended to extend its life for 10 years.

Both he and Willis noted the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission has announced the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to apply for millions in federal dollars to replace it at or near its present location.

If approved, the funds would come up to $30 billion allocated to the federal Highway Administration’s Bridge Enhancement Program, through which each state has been invited to submit projects with an estimated cost of $100 million or more.

“If we can get a new bridge, that would be tremendous,” said Willis.

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