Mercer County’s weaknesses were at the forefront of Tuesday’s Development Authority meeting.

Frank Brady was appointed president of the Board of Directors of the Development Authority and one of his first actions was to call for an honest assessment of Mercer County in terms of economic development.

Tuesday, Brady presented those present with a list of the strengths discussed in the last meeting. He then walked to front of the Mercer County Technical Education Seminar Center and began writing the suggested weaknesses on a white piece of paper.

Mercer County Schools Superintendent Deborah Akers was the first to suggest a weakness. She said the drug issue facing Mercer County was a weakness.

This went directly into Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce Director Marc Meachum’s point.

“The skilled workforce that we discussed last time could be a weakness too,” Meachum said. “Sometimes there aren’t enough clean people to do the job.”

His Princeton counterpart, Robert Farley, took the discussion in another direction. He suggested that the county government was weak. Farley’s point seemed to permeate the next few minutes of discussion.

Development Authority Executive Director Janet Bailey said water and sewer was lacking in some areas which hindered development there and she called for a county zoning ordinance. She added that the loss of commercial service to the Mercer County Airport was another weakness.

After a brief discussion about the business climate of the state of West Virginia which would continue later, Brady stepped away from his near constant writing.

“Let me throw one at you,” Brady said, then turned and began writing on the board. When he finished it said “Bluefield vs. Princeton.”

City of Bluefield Economic Development Director Greg Shrewsbury said something along those same lines was Mercer vs. Tazewell. Shrewsbury turned the discussion toward education.

He added that West Virginia had a very poor reputation in terms of education. Farley and Brady quickly suggested the reputation differed from the actual system.

Akers added that the problem with education was parent apathy. She said there was a thought process that included just letting the school system take care of any issues that arose.

“The biggest challenge for us in education in Mercer County is that we have a large segment of the population that doesn’t value education,” Akers said. “And that segment seems to be growing.”

Brady added that people in Mercer County seemed to be moving away from the family unit.

Farley changed the topic again. He said that Mercer County lacked manufacturing jobs.

Frontier’s Mike Saffold agreed and called the unions a threat.

Bailey concurred. She said Mercer County had been rejected for manufacturing jobs because West Virginia was not a “right to work” state.

— Contact Matt Christian at mchristian@ptonline.net.

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