Benwood, WV booming once again, ready for more - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Benwood, WV booming once again, ready for more

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Photo courtesy of Frank Longwell Photo courtesy of Frank Longwell
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Frank Longwell doesn't hold back when he describes Benwood as a boom town.

In fact, he confidently predicts that economic favor will rest on his beloved hometown for many years — even decades — to come.

Longwell, Benwood's Police Chief for 30 years, also has the titles of Economic Development Director and Public Safety Officer.

Drilling the abundance of gas below the surface in this Marshall County community has brought plenty of attention — and investment — to Benwood and the surrounding area.

“We are definitely taking advantage of the drilling industry and the boom as they call it,” he said. “Our industry here has definitely picked up,” Longwell added. “We look for it to last, well into the future.

“In talking to a lot of the energy companies, they tell me that if you look at it like a baseball game, we're not even to the first inning yet.”

Right place, right time

Longwell cites Benwood's location as a primary advantage of the gas boom.

“We have the real estate here, and we have the magic recipe,” he said. “We have the (Ohio) river which runs parallel to our industrial property. We have a major railroad that could be serviced from both the states of Ohio and West Virginia. And we have a four-lane highway for easy access, with Interstate 70 and (Interstate) 470.

“For a small community, we're in the right place at the right time.”

Benwood's future doesn't hinge only on gas and drilling however, Longwell said.

“Murray Energy bought a Consol mine in our city a couple of years ago,” he explained. “They're doing a big expansion on that coal processing plant, upwards to the amount of $125 million.”

Longwell said it's fortunate that amid a downturn in West Virginia's coal industry, the Upper Ohio Valley's mines are still producing.

“Murray felt confidant to spend over $100 million in new capital here at the Marshall County Mine in Moundsville,” he said. “They've tripled production out of that mine.”

That type of report will allow a town to be bullish on an industry that otherwise is struggling.

“We're not sharing the view that coal is done, like a lot of other parts of the state,” Longwell said. “Marshall County is the top coal producing county in the state. It doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon.”

Stability through diversification

Other industry around Benwood could promise even more stability through diversification.

“We also have a company with the fracking sand facility in our town, that's a several million dollar project,” Longwell said. “A large portion of fracking water comes out of our city. The material that they use to hold the drilling bits down, the fracking mud, there's a $5 million facility for that in our town.

“We sell some city water to the industry, which helps our water department out. It's been a pretty busy time for us around here.”

Longwell said nearly all the area's businesses are seeing success.

“We have a talcum powder plant. We have an auto recycling plant, a steel fabrication plant and we have a rail yard,” he said. “And we have an asphalt plant. Our county also just passed a new resolution to build a new power plant to run off natural gas. It's an $810 million project, with 400 construction jobs.

“We're now working on a possible building of a carbonator plant to process the frack water, which could raise up to a $500 million, with pipelines coming in to feed it. For a town of 1,400 people, we sure have a lot going on.”

Been here, doing that

Benwood is actually experiencing a boom for a second time, which helps in long-term planning.

“Benwood has always been an industrial town, back to the early 1900s,” Longwell explained. “Our rail yard at one time was one of the largest, with over 800 men employed there.

“It was a big exchange, between Huntington and Pittsburgh.”

When the local steel plant shut down about 30 years ago, times were tough.

“In our area, we lost a lot of steel mills in the Ohio Valley, which was the bulk of the employment,” Longwell said. “But this has come in to replace those jobs.

“We've re-organized and re-invented ourselves now. Now we're doing well.”

Benwood has two industrial parks that are still being used.

“One is an old steel mill, which closed down in the ‘80s,” he said. “A number of businesses will locate there, including this new one. We have created an additional industrial park on some of the unused rail yard property.

Community benefit

Current Benwood residents are the beneficiaries of the boom, as well as new families calling it home, according to Longwell.

“We have thousands of people pouring in to our county to work on these jobs,” he said. “And I know that our municipality has seen an increase in revenue.

“It definitely helps the schools. Marshall County is very generous to our schools. We've passed many bond levies; we've been blessed in that way. We have also been able to lower our property taxes.”

Investing in the future will benefit all of Benwood, Longwell stated.

“The city started a rainy day fund last year with well over $1 million,” he said. “We'll continue to put money there for administrations many years down the road. We hope to build off of that.”

Cooperation from the community at large has not gone unnoticed.

“When you have industry, you have noise and some inconveniences,” Longwell said. “So we reward our citizens.

“We're fee-free in Benwood. We have no municipal fees. A lot of cities have police fees, street fees and things like that. But in a way to give back to the community, we don't add fees. Everybody is making out on the deal.”

Longwell said the extra cash flow has helped to be able to pave streets, tear down dilapidated buildings, repair city buildings and boost the pay scale for city employees.

Having an efficient city hall helps too, he said.

“We have a great administration that all works together,” Longwell shared. “We don't even recognize titles, we're so busy working together. We thrive on success.”