New Cumberland looks to the river to grow economy - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

New Cumberland looks to the river to grow economy

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Photo courtesy of the Business Development Corporation Photo courtesy of the Business Development Corporation
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New Cumberland officials are hoping to capitalize on their city's river and rail access as they rebuild their tax base.

The city's council is working with the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle to develop a revitalization strategy that will make the most of its natural assets — the much-coveted water and rail access for industry, as well as a central location, a strong park system and period architecture that welcomes visitors to the community.

Mayor Linda McNeil says it's a must if the city wants to see growth and prosperity.

"I think our very first step is that council works together to figure out what we can do to improve the appearance of our town," she said. "In my opinion, that's a critical first step we have to take. Then we have to identify the resources that can help us improve our town."

Like so many other communities, New Cumberland is struggling with a shrinking population, aging infrastructure and eroding tax base. McNeil figures if it can create jobs and enhance the quality of life, the rest will take care of itself.

BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said they started the process by organizing a street-by-street tour of New Cumberland with city and county leaders, encouraging them to look at positives as well as negatives. Everything from the number of abandoned and dilapidated structures in town to traffic patterns and how they impact transportation came under scrutiny, he said.

"There are a lot of opportunities for New Cumberland," Ford said. "They have a great sense of community, and that makes it very inviting. The gateway into town is very appealing. The houses are charming with manicured lawns, some great architecture and pedestrians out walking around. 

"Based just on appearance, there are going to be opportunities that present themselves for redesigning."

He said the community will need to develop a vision for its future, a blueprint it can use to recruit new business and industry.

"New Cumberland already has the roads, it has rail lines and the Ohio River," he said. "It also has the underground infrastructure ... storm water management, water and sewer lines. It definitely needs to be improved, but the bones of the infrastructure are there. It's just how do we make it all work, how do we package it so New Cumberland can accommodate the demands of modern industry."

He said city residents must guide the planning process, determining activities they'd like to pursue, prioritizing them and then classifying them as being to raise awareness, implement immediately or requiring research before implementing.

"Classifying each activity will help us understand what their priorities are. It becomes a road map to economic revitalization," he said. "And what's nice about this model is we think it's something we can use to develop economic revitalization strategies for all our municipalities in Brooke and Hancock counties."

And on the practical side, he said city officials were able to point out "three or four properties we think will be critical sites for prospects in the oil and gas industry to evaluate."

"If it weren't for that drive-through, they might not even have been on our radar," he said. "There's one thing we need in the Northern Panhandle, and that's an inventory for economic development. There's no way we can get that inventory unless we look at what we have, assess it, clean it up and prepare it for prospects. The best way to do that is to go through the process we're going through now."