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Agency with DHHR contract has W.Va. roots

The awarding of a marketing contract to Fahlgren Mortine earlier this year is at the heart of a shakeup at the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Three DHHR senior staffers have been on paid leave since mid-July because they raised questions about the contract. News stories have repeatedly referred to Fahlgren Mortine as an Ohio-based firm, which is true. The company is headquartered in Columbus.

But that's not the whole story.

Fahlgren Mortine (pronounced "Mort-tyne") consists of numerous businesses that have merged over the years. Smoot Fahlgren established one of those, an advertising agency, in 1962, in Parkersburg.

In 1986, Neil Mortine established a public relations firm as part of Lord, Sullivan & Yoder in Marion, Ohio, and moved it to Columbus.

Steve Drongowski was named to succeed Smoot Fahlgren as CEO in 1994. Drongowski was based in Columbus and the top management of the company moved there.

In 2003, Fahlgren acquired the public relations firm and the changed its name to Fahlgren Mortine Public Relations.

Neil Mortine became chief executive officer of Fahlgren Inc. in 2010 and promptly made three acquisitions: Edward Howard & Co. of Cleveland, GRIP Technology of Columbus and certain assets of Sabatino Day of Dayton.

Spokeswoman Melissa Dykstra said Fahlgren Mortine now has 167 employees in eight offices: Charleston and Parkersburg in West Virginia; Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toldeo in Ohio, plus Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The company also has a presence in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Lexington, Ky.; Denver, Colo.; and Chattanooga, Tenn. "We don't have a physical office in those cities but we do have a person on the ground working there," Dykstra said.

"That entire region - the Midwest and down through the Southeast - we're seeing growth," she said. "It is important for us to have locations there."

She pointed out that the company has had an office in Parkersburg for 50 years.

Fahlgren Mortine currently has 15 employees in Parkersburg, she said. They work out of an office at 418 Grand Park Drive. The company has two employees in Charleston. They work out of Suite 305 in Summers Square.

According to state Auditor Glen Gainer's online vendor database, the state has paid the company $19 million since 1994.

Dykstra said that amount probably includes money the agency received but turned around and paid out to buy billboards, newspaper advertisements and other ads.

Most of the money paid by the state - $15.6 million - was for work performed for the West Virginia Lottery Commission.

"We started the office in Charleston in 2010 as a result of the contract with the lottery," Dykstra said. "We are really proud of the work we've done there. We've done some great work for them that won 15 awards in the last year. We won the 'Best of Show' for the last two years in the Addy Awards."

The awards, presented by the West Virginia chapter of the American Advertising Federation, promote the best of advertising and its practitioners.

Fahlgren Mortine also received $3.4 million from the state Tourism Division. Dykstra said the company had the division's advertising contract from 1989 to 1995.

In addition to contracts with the Lottery Commission and DDHR, Fahlgren Mortine is currently working with WVU Healthcare, Huntington Federal Savings & Loan and United Bank, Dykstra said.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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