Raleigh Airport Park Attracting Employers From Around the World

Feb. 28--BEAVER -- Just about every day, someone stops at Tom Cochran's office, asking questions about the new Raleigh County Memorial Airport business park on the west side of the runway.

Is there water, sewer, a gas line? Yes, Cochran tells them, and they leave his office and drive around the runway on a paved road to check it out.

"They're really impressed to find the land ready to build on," said Cochran, the airport's manager.

The airport didn't get the money to build the industrial/office park until two years ago. It was one of 48 projects across the state funded by the Economic Development Grant Committee.

Thirty-six of those projects haven't been finished. Some project sponsors haven't spent a dime of their grant money. State development leaders are trying to figure out ways to prod those projects along.

But that's not a problem at the Raleigh County airport. Bulldozers and graders already have cleared the land for the new industrial park. Sewer, water, gas and telephone hookups have been installed. A paved road cuts through the park.

Soon, construction will start on a doctor's office, then later a child development center.

Within 10 years, Raleigh development officials predict as many as 1,000 people will work at the business park. Nearly 300 acres are available for development.

"In Southern West Virginia, things are supercharged with gas and coal right now, so the timing is so good," said Brad Wartella, a Bank of Mount Hope vice president who is also chairman of the airport authority's board.

The grant committee gave $5.5 million to the airport for the project.

"We're not saving any of our money," Cochran said. "We're going ahead and spending it."

The airport's east side already houses an industrial park, which opened in 1978, and it appears to be thriving.

There's a German business that manufactures sheet plastic, spring-water bottler, environmental testing lab and a couple of mining-related businesses.

In all, about 700 people work there.

"These are all better paying jobs with benefits," Cochran said.

What brings businesses here?

The airport is just two miles -- free of traffic lights -- to the interstate. And, of course, the two business parks surround the airport.

The new park will front a second aircraft taxiway. Business executives could walk out of their offices, board a corporate jet and take off within minutes on one of the airport's two runways.

The airport also overlooks Piney Gorge and thousands of acres of forest. "It's a rural setting, beautiful," Cochran said. "It gets you out of the hustle and bustle and all the traffic."

Parcels, which sell for about $55,000 an acre, come as small as 2 acres and as large as 30. The park on the runway's opposite side has only smaller parcels.

Airport officials believe the larger sites might attract bigger companies.

"If we do hit one of those home runs, we can land it," Wartella said.

The airport has set aside two tracks of land for flight-related businesses, hoping to attract an aircraft parts distributor or plane-rebuild firm.

Airport leaders also are seeking additional money -- about $3 million -- to build a road that would provide better access to the interstate.

"This land has been here since the Lord put it here," Cochran said. "People would come out here and look, but there was nothing; there were no attractions. Now these sites are ready to build on."

To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.