KEYSER - “We're doing everything that we can,” said Del. Gary Howell as local legislators updated members of the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce on efforts following last week's announcement of the closure of the Verso Luke Mill during the annual legislative dinner.
By Ronda Wertman
KEYSER - “We’re doing everything that we can,” said Del. Gary Howell as local legislators updated members of the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce on efforts following last week’s announcement of the closure of the Verso Luke Mill during the annual legislative dinner.
Howell stated that upon learning of the closure announcement by Verso, he immediately contacted the governor’s office and Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch.
While Maryland is taking the lead in trying to find a buyer for the plant, local officials are seeking to find alternatives for the employees of the mill and the associated businesses.
Howell stated that Kingsford Charcoal has announced that it is “staying put.”
With 4,000 tons of wood a day going to the mill, the suppliers are an important issue.
“That is a huge part of the industry,” said Howell, noting that they are talking with the West Virginia Forestry Division and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on possible logging in national forests.
Local options are also being looked at with Northrup Grumman working to hire their estimated 583 new employees sooner rather than later and Automated Packaging has seven positions open.
Senator Randy Smith who works in the mining industry said that local mines are reaching out to see who they can put back to work.
“Small things add up,” said Smith, noting the importance of pushing small business in West Virginia.
The legislators noted several bills that passed through the legislature this session, which may also help.
Senator Dave Sypolt spoke of the career education bill, where the state will pay the tuition for two-year programs given that criteria including drug testing and community service are met.
“Most of the better-paying jobs in West Virginia are certificate jobs from two year programs,” he said. “I know how hard it is to find people to work.”
Another provision with the career bill is that those completing the program must agree to work in the state for a specified period of time.
Howell noted that this will help to bring money to both Potomac State College and Eastern Community and Technical College.
The coal bill is aimed at offering tax credits for those developing former mining land and tax credits on the severance tax for those locating in West Virginia and adding jobs.
“Where we gain money is personal income tax,” said Smith.
“There was a lot of good that happened this year,” Del. Ruth Rowan said, noting the elimination of the tax on Social Security, which will be $50 million in tax relief for seniors.
She noted that the Jim’s Dream bill works to provide education and job placement for those recovering from substance abuse.
Rowan noted that other bills were aimed at children and families including streamlining foster care, providing resources for grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren and funding for home nutrition programs.