Belmont County’s economic and development growth is drawing attention at the state and national level, says Belmont County Commissioner Matt Coffland. At the Wednesday, Oct. 14 meeting of the Barnesville Area Chamber of Commerce held at the Walton Retirement Home, Coffland updated members on the continuous economic growth in the county.
“There is so much going on in Belmont County,” he said, pointing to recent data showing that Belmont County is  part of an area that has the fifth fastest growing economy in the nation. New statistics show the area consisting of Belmont, Marshall and Ohio counties comprises the fifth-fastest growing economy in the nation. The Wheeling Metropolitan Statistical Area’s gross domestic product grew by 9.5 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Gross domestic product is generally defined as the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a respective area’s borders over a specific time period.
The government counts 381 MSAs throughout the nation. The only areas to outpace the local MSA for economic growth last year are those in Midland, Texas; San Angelo, Texas; Lake Charles, La., and Greeley, Colo.
The previous day,  Coffland and fellow Board of Commission members Ginny Favede and Mark Thomas were in at the Ohio Department of Transportation in Columbus applying for $3.9 million in funding for the second phase of the Mall Road Connector Project.  Commissioners were joined by  St. Clairsville City and Richland Township officials and Bel-O-Mar Regional Council Director Scott Hicks. Coffland said they are confident that they made a good impression with their presentation to the ODOT Transportation Review Advisory Council. Hicks gave an overview of the project in Columbus and Bel-O-Mar has committed $1 million for Phase 2. Also presenting were Dennis Bigler, chairman of the Belmont County Transportation Improvement District. Officials said they should know within two months if the ODOT funding will be received.
Coffland noted that ODOT has spent a lot of money in Belmont County, having paved 100,000 miles of road this year. He said road upkeep is a cost of the gas and oil boom for which the industry,  state and county are responsible.
Coffland said the completion of the project, that will include a bridge over I-70 that would connect with Mall Ring Road, is bringing with it at least six new business on either side of the interchange planned for 2016. This summer, the 100-room Candlewood Suites property opened  outside the Ohio Valley Mall. A Residence Inn by Marriott, featuring 103 suites, is slated to open in a previously undeveloped area between Kmart and Interstate 70 next year. The other hotel project underway near the mall is the Hawthorn Suites property, which will occupy the same hillside as the Hampton Inn and the Microtel by Wyndham. Coffland said planned mall road projects also include a Sheets gas station, a Trinity Health System location and senior housing.
All those hotels and motels and the resulting bed tax have significantly increased Belmont County Tourism coffers, allowing them to distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to local tourism attractions. Tourism Director Eugene “Doc” Householder said that the council recently donated $83,000 of that money for the purchase of the historic Bellaire viaduct and five surrounding acres of land for the creation of a tourist attraction. Other recent donations include $136,000 to the Belmont County Mansion Museum in Barnesville for restoration of the wrap-around porch, as well as money to the newly created Belmont County Sheriffs Residence Museum in St. Clairsville.
“Belmont County is really on the move,” Householder said.
The Ohio Valley Mall itself is also seeing increased growth. Coffland said occupancy at the mall is 98 percent, up from 60 percent a few years ago. He said commissioners continue to work with OVM owners, the Cafaro family. A representative of the family was present at the ODOT presentation in Columbus.
 “The Ohio Valley Mall is number one in the eyes of Anthony Cafaro,” Coffland said noting that it is one of many properties owned by the family in 11 states.
Coffland also talked about the planned $5.7 billion ethane cracker plant at Dilles Bottom.
Last month, Commissioners were on hand in Columbus when it was announced that Thailand company PTT Global will invest $100 million to determine whether to move forward with an ethane cracker facility in Belmont County. PTT Global Chemical, Gov. John Kasich and representatives of JobsOhio announced the plan, calling it “one of the biggest development projects that Ohio’s seen in quite some time.”
“Building an ethane gas cracker in eastern Ohio has the ability to be a real game changer for our economy as we make our state a hub for the energy industry,” Kasich said in a released statement. “The company’s decision to start the engineering phase of this potential project is an enormous step toward making this project a reality.”
A cracker plant would process ethane from natural gas produced in eastern Ohio’s emerging shale oilfields, processing it into plastics. Officials say manufacturers of products made with that plastic would then flock to this area.
Coffland said county officials remain confident that the ethane cracker plant will become a reality. He said they have met with PTT officials four times so far. Coffland said the last time they were in the area, he and Belmont County Port Authority Director Larry Merry gave them a tour of Belmont County and answered questions about housing, schools, etc.
“We are building a relationship and showing them that Belmont County is a good place with good, friendly people. Those people are one of our strong selling points,” Coffland said.
All this growth is attracting attention  at the state level as well.
“The governor does have Belmont County on his radar,” Coffland said.
“This county is booming. We are the envy of the whole state,” Coffland said. “No one has a [comeback] story like Belmont County. No one.”