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Opening of college helps boost W.Va. Tech Park employment



Employment in the West Virginia Regional Technology Park grew by 81.5 full-time equivalent positions last year, a 13.65 percent increase over the previous year, said Phil Halstead, the park's executive director.

Halstead gave a report on 2012 developments at the park during the regular monthly meeting of the South Charleston Economic Development Committee on Tuesday at Little Creek Country Club.

Dec. 15 marked the second anniversary of the state's acceptance of the park as a gift from The Dow Chemical Co. When the state took over, 550 people worked there. On the first anniversary of the transition, the park provided workspace to 597 people. Today, 678.5 full-time equivalents work there.

Halstead said the big driver in 2012 was the addition of 107 employees, mostly faculty, at Kanawha Valley Community & Technical College. The school opened in newly refurbished Building 2000 in August.

"Life in the tech park has changed," Halstead said, noting that every day now nearly 2,500 people are working or going to class there.

In addition to the Kanawha Valley school, Bridgemont Community & Technical College has about 50 students and 9.5 full-time equivalent faculty who occupy Building 704.

The Mid-Atlantic Technology Research and Innovation Center, known as MATRIC, has 75 employees in the park. Halstead said it is significant that MATRIC has taken over operation of Building 771, the smallest of the park's three major pilot plants.

"It will be the bait in the trap," he said of the building, explaining that the hope is that companies will come use a pilot plant, see the other facilities and decide to put down roots. "This is the key to growing the park's tenants - contract research," Halstead said in an interview.

Other developments:

* A first draft of a master plan was presented to the park's governing body, the West Virginia Regional Technology Park Corp., on Dec. 6.

Perkins & Will, an architect and consulting firm, studied the park's 97 developed acres and Potesta & Associates Inc., an engineering and environmental consulting services firm, conducted a civil engineering master plan for the park's 167 undeveloped acres. Potesta "found that about 70 acres can be flattened out and used," Halstead said.

A final version will be presented to the directors on Jan. 31.

"When we get this (master plan) done, we'll go on the road, talking to developers and further marketing the tech park. There's going to be no immediate gratification here. This is what I'm going to call, 'persistence pays off.'"

* The state Division of Highways recently installed new signs on Interstate 64 directing motorists to the park and the Kanawha Valley Community & Technical College.

* The park has brought many operations in-house and has hired three key staff: Angela Panaro, accounting and finance manager; Mary Annie, operations manager; and Kristie Brown, office and human resources manager. The park also has five staff who take care of the park 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

* The park's directors have voted to make the park tobacco free, effective July 1.  

* The $11.6 million, 50,000-square-foot Advantage Valley Advanced Technology Center, under construction on the site where Building 701 once stood, is 25 percent complete and should be ready for occupancy in about October.

* As previously reported, Alpha Technologies of Hurricane bought Building 6000, the former Union Carbide Corp. data center, from Dow Chemical in June.

* The park switched from its approximately 50-year-old central steam plant to individual building boilers in December. The change will save an estimated $1 million a year.

* The park's financial statements received a clean audit from an outside, independent accounting firm, Suttle & Stalnaker of Charleston.

There are some bumps on the way to revitalizing the park:

* The remodeling of Building 770, originally expected to begin in December, "has been delayed because we don't have the resources" necessary to reconfigure the heating and air conditioning system and refurbish the building, Halstead said. Bids came in at twice the amount expected.

"We've got to find the ways and means to make this happen," he said of the Building 770 remodel. The four-story, 130,000-square-foot laboratory building is vacant.

The state Higher Education Policy Commission owns Building 770.

Following the meeting, state Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill issued a written statement that said, "The original estimate of $10.5 million for Building 770 was based on improving the facility's energy consumption including a new HVAC system, replacement windows, and other energy upgrades.

"Since the original review, the building has been evaluated in greater detail to determine the costs associated with a full redesign," Hill said. "As a result of the expanded scope of work, the projected costs have increased significantly.

"At this time, the West Virginia Regional Technology Park Corp. board of directors is continuing to review any and all development opportunities and has yet to make a final determination regarding future improvements to Building 770."

* As reported in March 2012, Bayer MaterialScience is moving its polyether and flexible foam technical center from the park to the company's campus outside of Pittsburgh.

"Bayer will have all of their people out by July 1," Halstead said. "It's a loss of about 28 high-level tech and support jobs."

In an interview, Halstead said there is active interest in the Bayer unit.

Contact writer George Hohmann at or 304-348-4836.



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