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Community Conversations Visits West Virginia

The Richmond Fed’s Community Conversations program visited Parkersburg, West Virginia this month to understand the hopes and challenges of business and community leaders in the town and its surrounding region.

“We wanted to learn more about Parkersburg and the different sectors of its economy,” said Andy Bauer, the Bank’s regional executive for Maryland, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia.

While Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin traveled to the area for onsite and online meetings with community stakeholders, Bauer and other members of the Community Conversations planning team participated virtually.

Barkin’s visit included meetings with local community and business leaders and several virtual roundtables. The first roundtable was a discussion with representatives of the largest chemical companies in the region. The chemical industry is one of the largest employers in the area, and roundtable participants discussed the outlook for the sector, its current challenges and opportunities, and the prospect for future investment.

Another roundtable featured leaders from Parkersburg and Wood County. “From previous Community Conversations, we have learned that collaboration between local leaders is essential for moving a town, city and/or region forward,” Bauer said. “The discussion focused on the dynamics in the region, including the fact that the town is located next to Vienna, a thriving West Virginia community, and just across the Ohio River from Marietta, Ohio, and cooperation occurs regularly.”

The Community Conversations team was informed about how local foundations, city government, the business community and higher education are working together to promote community and economic development, he said.

Richmond Fed Community Development Manager Tiffany Hollin-Wright led a roundtable focused on workforce and access to childcare. West Virginia is a leader in providing universal pre-kindergarten care, and Hollin-Wright and others on the Community Conversations planning team learned that while this program provides schooling for 3- and 4-year-olds, childcare providers are then left with younger children in their care and face higher expenses, due to the lower child-to-caregiver ratios the state requires for younger children.

The team also learned that while families with higher incomes are able to afford childcare and those with lower income are able to receive government support, paying for quality childcare is a challenge for middle income families.

The final roundtable focused on the oil and natural gas sector in West Virginia and how Parkersburg and the local region have benefitted from the boom in the natural gas sector in recent decades. While there is no energy production in Wood County (in which Parkersburg is situated), several nearby counties are some of the largest natural gas producers in the state and in the nation. With an infrastructure in place provided by the chemical industry, there are efforts underway to promote investment that would be a “game changer” for the region, according to the roundtable participants, as it would attract other investment.

“Parkersburg could take advantage of downstream activities from the natural gas sector, as processed natural gas liquids are the feedstock for the chemical industry and are key inputs for plastic manufacturing as well as other sectors,” Bauer said.

The Community Conversations planning team intends to remain in contact with Parkersburg leaders and keep them informed about economic opportunities and helpful resources, such as the benefits cliffs tool the Bank is raising awareness about throughout the Fifth District, and its efforts to raise awareness about the importance of broadband expansion.

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