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Article originally published: weirtondailytimes | June 3, 2023

Last week’s “groundbreaking” festivities for Form Energy were certainly an event our area won’t forget for some time. I put groundbreaking in quotation marks, because in reality ground has been broken already. Earthwork has been under way for a while now as the company pushes forward on its plan to construct its battery manufacturing facility.

Also, unlike many similar ceremonial groundbreakings, there wasn’t the big photo-op of company and government officials holding shovels and turning over a scoop of dirt while everyone applauds. Instead, a metal I-beam was brought out and the VIPs and other important guests were invited to sign it.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin was there, as was U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. Having Secretary Granholm in Weirton was a big surprise, and also a sign of support from the Biden administration as it continues to look for ways to invest in newer technologies for the nation’s energy sector.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito was scheduled to be there, but were told that morning something had come up and she would be unable to attend. I’m sure there will be many more opportunities for the senator to see some of the development taking place in our region, though.

Representing the state was West Virginia Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael, who is becoming a regular visitor to Hancock and Brooke counties. I had an opportunity to speak with Del. Mark Zatezalo and state Sen. Ryan Weld, and thought I saw Del. Jimmy Willis in the crowd. Of course, Weirton’s mayor and much of city council were there. It was a large group in attendance, and easy to get turned around, so there is a chance other local dignitaries were there, and I just didn’t see them.

I realize there are those who have expressed a cautious mindset, or even outright skepticism, over this project, but there is no doubt it is bringing a new sense of excitement to our area.

It’s not going to be the only big event, either.

Investment needs to happen in order to move forward. We can’t keep treading water, no matter what the situation. We can continue to see work in the traditional businesses and industries, but that doesn’t mean we have to turn away from new opportunities. That’s what this is all about, after all. Whether it be Form Energy, Bidell Gas Compression, Pietro Fiorentini, Pure Watercraft or Fanti USA, these are companies who are taking a chance on us. They see an opportunity to establish themselves as a business, and feel the Ohio Valley is going to be the best place to do it.

If they succeed, we all succeed. They build their facilities, create jobs to manufacture their products, hopefully local people are hired for these positions. Those jobs mean more money is spent in our communities, which can lead to other local businesses seeing growth of their own.

That means others see increased opportunity, which can lead to other businesses starting up, a need for additional housing, investment in our infrastructure, schools, parks and more.

There are a lot of moving parts in this project, just as there are with any development effort. There may be a few bumps along the way, but if everything comes to fruition, it will be a win. I understand there are people who might not always like to type of businesses looking at our area. I also know there are some who question whether some of the funding should have been allotted the way it was, especially with the Form Energy project. At the same time, I constantly hear people ask why government isn’t investing in the creation of business.

We are turning the page in our local history book. We are seeing opportunity happen with our own eyes. We are taking that next step we have been hoping for for so long.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)