|Senate Bill 354, adopted by Senate Economic Development on Wednesday, creates the West Virginia Advanced Energy and Economic Development Corridor Authority comprised of the McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, and Wayne counties economic development agencies.
According to legislative findings, the Corridor Authority, established as a 501 ( c)(3) entity, will provide “guidance to local governments, business, and industries which may maximize the economic development and diversification of…economies” in the four counties, including “vital connectivity to bourgeoning markets, resulting in both job creation and economic expansion in southern West Virginia” in large part because of the proximity to the National Highway System’s I-73/74 corridor, which spans northern Michigan to eastern South Carolina.
Additionally, legislative findings note the Corridor economic development agencies are “aligning efforts to embrace the expansion of the energy and economic development policies adopted by the West Virginia Legislature as a tool for economic development and are focused on efforts to transform and revitalize the region by fostering partnerships and initiatives which are complementary and supportive of existing successful industries in West Virginia.”
The bill stipulates several Authority duties, including:
· Setting “specific tactical goals and demonstrable objectives via input from member counties and communities”
· Seeking Private-Public Partnerships (P3s) to achieve its vision;
· Allowing bonding and tax credits to facilitate economic development along the corridor;
· Seeking governmental engagement for guidance
· Developing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in areas of economic development, transportation, tourism, infrastructure, technology, and other areas beneficial to the member counties and communities, and the state.
Additionally, the Authority “may exercise all powers necessary or appropriate to carry out the purposes of this article, including property acquisition; contracting for legal services; appointing officers, agencies and employees; contracting for consultants’ services; accepting grants, gifts and other funds; securing loans; and seeking and securing in-kind gifts or funds.
The Department of Economic Development is to assist the Corridor Authority with administrative, clerical, and technical support.
The Committee removed two bill provisions, including a requirement that the Corridor Authority “make a commitment to a net-zero carbon footprint for all endeavors.”
The second amendment deleted language whereby Corridor Authority members would reimbursed for “reasonable expenses incurred in the discharge of their official duties.”
The “net-carbon footprint” language drew strong committee opposition.
By removing members’ expenses reimbursement, the bill forgoes second reference to Senate Finance.
The Corridor Authority would include 13 members.
Senator Robert H. Plymale of Wayne County, a bill sponsor, noted the “staffing” is largely drawn for the four counties involved, meaning no additional expenses for hiring staff, and that, as the Committee counsel states, the “net-carbon footprint” language can be an objective for which the Corridor strives.